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Jim Snidero - The Music of Joe Henderson 


Jim Snidero - Alto Sax

Joe Magnarelli - Trumpet

Conrad Herwig - Trombone

Dave Hazeltine - Piano

Dennis Irwin - Bass

Kenny Washington - Drums

1. If
2. Serenity

3. Punjab

4. Inner Urge

5. Step Lightly

6. Recorda-Me

7. Black Narcissus

8. Afro-Centric

Total Time 53:50 

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Jim Snidero: The Music of Joe Henderson

   In the early ’90s, the splendid tenor saxophonist and composer Joe Henderson, then into his ’50s, began to finally receive widespread public adulation. This was primarily due to the solid success of two Verve Records albums: Lush Life: The Music Of Billy Strayhorn and So Near, So Far (Musings For Miles). Both won Grammies and sold in the low six figures-exceedingly well for jazz albums.
   But musicians had known about JoeHen, as many call him, from the time he arrived in New York from Detroit in 1962. He readily attracted attention for his performances, in person and on record, with notables such as trumpeters Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard and pianists Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner and Andrew Hill. As a leader, he made first class Blue Note albums, among them Page One, In ‘N Out and Inner Urge.
    Alto saxophonist Jim Snidero, a dynamic and persuasive improviser and composer who is a central cog in the current New York post-bop acoustic jazz scene, was one of those who discovered the joys of Joe Henderson way back. But not right at first.
   While in high school in Camp Springs, Md., Snidero was given Tyner’s The Real McCoy, which spotlighted the tenorist. “Man,” he says now with a chuckle, “the playing on that album is so rhythmically complex and harmonically and melodically abstracted that it took me three years of listening to figure out I liked it.”
    Later, when Snidero was a student at North Texas State University (now called the University of North Texas) in the late ’70s, he began to realize how much he dug Henderson.
   “Joe was a clever player, rhythmically, and he avoided a lot of cliches,” Snidero says, remembering that time. “And he was really soulful, not in a simple, funky way, but in a more heartfelt way. So I looked for everything [recorded] of his I could find. And there have been several periods besides college where I was deep into Joe.
   “He has definitely influenced my playing, like the way he approaches chord changes. And rhythm is so important with Joe, and with me. And there’s a certain softness he has that you hear in some of my things, say, ‘Round ‘Midnight’ on [my previous Double Time Jazz release], Standards + Plus.”
   Snidero has tossed around the idea of Joe Henderson project for a few years. A while back, he and David Hazeltine, his pianist here, had talked about a duo album. “Dave mentioned doing all tunes by Joe. Nobody had done that,” the altoist says. But nothing came of it. Then last year, he thought about a sextet album with Henderson the focus. The result is the ear-pleasing, invigorating and profound The Music Of Joe Henderson, replete with hip, swinging playing that is as good as it gets.
   “I wanted to pay tribute to Joe as people have done to Miles or Trane,” says our leader. “Joe’s an important figure in the history of modern jazz.”
    Indeed, just as major artists such as Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins  and Ornette Coleman left their mark on Henderson, one can arguably see the native of Lima, Ohio’s influence, as both improviser and composer, on the likes of saxophonists Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis and Chris Potter, trumpeters Woody Shaw, Tom Harrell and Randy Brecker and pianists Renee Rosnes and Mulgrew Miller.
   To help Snidero in this adventure, he employed five of Manhattan’s finest jazz players, all of whom deserve to be better known: pianist Hazeltine, trombonist Conrad Herwig, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Kenny Washington.
   The men are all long-standing partners of the leader’s, who has performed with such jazz heavyweights as Jack McDuff, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Brian Lynch, as well as Latin great Eddie Palmieri. (Snidero is also getting justifiable notoriety for his innovative improvisation series, Jazz Conception, published by Advance Music.)
     Snidero has known the versatile, immensely talented Herwig, who has also worked with Akiyoshi and Palmieri, since college. He recorded with him on the brassman’s With Every Breath (Ken) album and rightly calls him “one of the most brilliant trombone players on the scene today.”
    The leader met trumpet ace Magnarelli, who often plays in the altoist’s quintet and has performed with Lionel Hampton and the New York Hard Bop Quintet, on the Akiyoshi band. “Joe’s one of the most heartfelt trumpet players I know, and one of the hardest working,” says Snidero.
  Hazeltine-who appears with Slide Hampton and the co-op group One For All and has played with Sonny Stitt, Junior Cook and Charles McPherson- first hooked up with Snidero around 1981, when the leader moved to New York after college. “I’d hear him at the Star Café [in Greenwich Village] with Junior [Cook] and Brian [Lynch],” Jim says. “Dave’s a rising star on piano. He knows so much about the music.”
   Irwin and Washington, who have collectively played with Art Blakey, Cedar Walton, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and Johnny Griffin, are two cream-of-the-crop rhythm artists. They both performed on Snidero’s Standards + Plus. “Dennis is probably the most swinging bass player that I know,” the leader says. “Kenny, around New York City, is Mr. Drums, Mr. Music. He just knows everything about it all and he can do it, too.”
    “These guys were all great to work with,” says Jim, in appreciation. “They’re down people who are into the music.”
   Snidero devised the repertoire for this prime ensemble by mixing the familiar JoeHen numbers, say, the standard “Recorda-Me,” with the more obscure songs like “If”; and balancing challenging tunes such as “Inner Urge” and “Afro-Centric” with strongly melodic numbers like such as “Serenity” and ‘Step Lightly.”
     “Going over the songs was an eye-opening experience,” says the altoist, who is enthralled by Henderson’s decidedly modern compositional approach. “I saw that Joe was one of the first guys to use parallel major chord movement [instead of the more common II-V Tin Pan Alley type chord progressions],” he says. “A lot of tunes do that; the pinnacle of that [idea] is ‘Inner Urge.’ Almost the whole tune is major-and major/plus 11-chords.”
   Other tunes here that use a similar chordal concept are “Black Narcissus” and “Punjab.” “To me, ‘Punjab’ is the epitome of a Joe Henderson composition,” Snidero says. “It’s got an interesting melody, it’s in a non-symmetrical form-a ten bar phrase, then an eight-bar phrase-and it has parallel chord motion at the end, where the chords ascend.”
    The program starts with “If,” a contemporary jazz blues that Henderson recorded in 1967 on his The Kicker (Milestone), but which he debuted with organist Larry Young on Young’s 1965 Blue Note album, Unity. It was the latter arrangement that touched Snidero, who crafted all the charts here. But he fiddled with it a bit, adding a 24-bar vamp interlude between the theme and the solos. “Not a lot of people play this tune and it’s open enough that you can do different things with it,” he says.
   Snidero’s solo exemplifies his outstanding improvisation manner. His tone is rich, reflecting the influences of Cannonball Adderley and Charlie Parker. And while his lines have a boppish tinge, they have an edge that speaks of now. Lighting it all up is a dandy rhythmic spark. First rate. The same goes for the efforts, here and throughout, from the others.
   The arrangement for the subsequent “Serenity,” one of JoeHen’s most endearing pieces, is drawn from baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams’ superb Encounter (Prestige) album. There it’s given a smoother, slower ride than when the tenorist debuted it in 1964 on In ‘n Out. “I like the tune and that arrangement, which I don’t think has been recorded other than by Pepper,” says Jim. The leader, Magnarelli (with cup mute installed), and Hazeltine all offer warm sentiments.
    Snidero neatly thickened the melody line for the intriguing “Punjab,” also from In ‘n Out. This sextet version, where Herwig offers both wide leaps and attractive linear thoughts, leads to the arduous “Inner Urge,” title track of the now-famed album, also from 1964. Here, Snidero commandingly wends his way through the demanding chord sequence, offering complex figures that ring with musicality. “This is a hard ass tune, man,” he states unequivocally.
     The lyrical, moderately-paced “Step Lightly” is a 16-bar blues with altered changes that was recorded by Henderson on a session with trumpeter Blue Mitchell in 1963-then eventually released as the title track of a Mitchell Blue Note album in 1980. “I wanted to put a little heart and soul from Joe, a soulful ’60s blues that’s a little different from all the other tunes,” says the leader.
    Then there’s the Henderson classic, “Recorda-Me,” which he wrote when he was 14. He says he changed it only slightly by the time he documented it on his wondrous 1963 debut, Page One. This ebullient treatment, where Irwin and Washington characteristically make the time sizzle, leads to two pieces from the tenorist’s 1969 Milestone recording: “Black Narcissus” and “Afro-Centric.”
    The former, a lilting, introspective waltz-time number, sports tender, expressive playing by the leader. The vibrant “Afro-Centric,” which Snidero played on tour with trumpeter Harrell, is a spirited closer.
    This rewarding project was made last year, a few months after Henderson suffered a minor stroke and had retired to his San Francisco home for rest and rehabilitation. As do we all, Snidero wishes Joe a complete recovery and looks forward to hearing him again on the scene. Along with being just plain good listening, this scintillating, vital album serves as a perfect Get Well Soon card.

—Zan Stewart
 ASCAP-Deems Taylor awardee,
           Contributor, Los Angeles Times, Down Beat, Stereophile