Sax, Michael Cochrane-Piano, Calvin
Hill-Bass, Cecil Brooks III-Drums
Nat Simpkins' new recording is different from his previous releases.
Simpkins recordings in the past have featured the saxophonist teamed up
with a Hammond B-3. Here, we get to listen to a different facet of the
saxophonist. He works here with a rhythm section whose members should be
familiar to many jazz fans. Producer and drummer Cecil Brooks III
brought along big toned bassist Calvin Hill, who has worked with McCoy
Tyner, Max Roach and Junior Mance over the years, and pianist Michael
Cochrane, who lived in the Boston area in the early 1970's, has 3
recordings out under his own name and worked with Yoron Israel, Michael
Brecker, and Sonny Fortune. His sparkling solos are a pleasure to listen
Tadd Dameron's classic composition, On A Misty Night opens up the CD.
Another saxophonist from the Boston area, Paul Combs, has been doing
some research on Dameron. According to Nat, when Tadd and Coltrane
recorded the piece for the album Mating Call, they improvised the
bridge. Through Paul's research the chart used here has the melody for
the bridge. Pianist Michael Cochrane opens on the first tune of the cd.
Nat's tenor comes in big and boistrous, bringing to mind Stanley
Turrentine. Listen to the way the rhythm mates work together, locked in
a thrilling dance!
Inspired by the King Curtis recording of the song, All the Way again
opens with Cochrane 's piano work on the intro. Simpkins takes a couple
choruses. Nat's tone is just gorgeous and it's warm enough to melt
butter! Cochrane turns in another pretty piano solo.
Begin the Beguine, Cole Porter's classic from "Jubilee"
(1935) is next. As Nat's tenor plays the head, drummer Brooks sounds
like a bongo or a conga player, a groove he maintains throughout the
song. The saxophonist said "Begin The Beguine is such a beautiful
melody that I wanted to play it through with only minimal
embellishment." The groove established by bassist Hill, drummer
Brooks and pianist Cochrane helps to make this tune a
"danceable" delight to listen to!
Violets For Your Furs is a duet between Simpkins and Cochrane. Note
Nat's big tone as he seems to sing this song. Nat was inspired to play
this one by vocalist Johnny Hartman and saxophonist John Coltrane, who,
according to Nat, "played such beautiful melodies in his Prestige
era." Pianist Cochrane sounds Monk- like, at times as he
accompanies the tenor player but his solo sounds more like McCoy Tyner.
There is a bright and sunny feeling to the title track, Cape Ann
Escape. That feeling hides the fact that it's really a difficult tune to
play. The chords are similar to Horace Silver's "Peace" and
John Coltrane's Central Park West. Navigating through the difficult
changes of this song results in a tune with a relaxed feeling. This tune
tells about Nat's favorite retreat during a low period in his life.
While looking out at the water from that retreat, Simpkins came to the
realization that everything would be okay. Simpkins attacks this one
with fiery passion when he solos.
Calvin Hill is another one of the fine musicians who called the
greater Boston area home at one time or another. The tune Skylark
features the bassist and Nat in a duo setting. After a pretty straight
reading of the melody by the pair, Hill solos next. Nat says he's wanted
to record this one since he made a trip to Scullers Jazz Club in Boston
a few years ago to hear David "Fathead" Newman who performed
the tune that evening.
Exactly Like You is a tune that Nat's been playing for years. Calvin
and Cecil play a short introduction to this one. It's a shuffle groove
that makes you think of soft shoe dancers or at times, tap dancers.
(Isn't it interesting how I keep talking about Cecil Brooks III with
dance references? Listen! You'll hear what I mean!) Michael Cochrane
takes the first chorus, turning in another very pretty solo. Nat takes a
short solo next. Is that "Jingle Bells" he quotes to start his
Carmen is a samba for Nat's mother, Carmen Simpkins. Nat's mother has
painted over 5000 paintings in her lifetime and she still paints and
exhibits her work all over the world. Listen to the tone colors the
saxophonist gets using a growl, producing interesting harmonic effects
that sound like the saxophonist is playing more than one note at a time.
The rhythm section is stellar here. Again listen to Brooks' drum work
throughout the tune and during his solo, in which the drummer sounds
like he's the timbale player in the band!
Two tunes written by the Gershwins are next. A Foggy Day is the tune
Nat has used for sometime now as the set opener at many of his live
performances. These musicians seemed to have enjoyed themselves on that
famous foggy evening! Nat takes the first solo, setting a nice gentle
pace before pianist Cochrane makes his statement.
On the second Gershwin tune Simpkins wanted to feature the ballad
playing of Michael Cochrane. He plays a beautiful unaccompanied
introduction to Someone To Watch Over Me. Plain, simple, not fancy,
Nat's playing is so pretty it makes me wonder if the saxophonist was
ever a singer. Nat Simpkins lived in the Bahamas some years ago. On the
islands he often heard the sound of calypso music. Conchy Joe, an island
term for a white Bahamian, is Nat's calypso. It's somewhat reminiscent
of "Stone Cold Dead in the Market," another calypso tune that
was popular several decades ago.