Review by Brad Walseth
Tenor saxophonist John Ricci lists Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis, Mark Turner, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane and Ben Webster as his biggest saxophone influences, and this impressive group of Jazz royalty is certainly to be found as elements in this young player's sound. Ricci studied with Jerry Coker and former Jazz Messenger Donald Brown, who he considers a mentor. He later taught at Florida State University and the University of North Florida as an assistant professor assisting Bunky Green, and is now the Director of Jazz Studies at Jacksonville University. The saxophonist/composer has played and recorded with people like Marcus Printup, Angel Roman and Rebecca Zapen, performs at festivals and clubs and has won numerous awards. "Holding Time" is Ricci's entertaining debut release and features four original compositions as well as two standards.
Recorded live with no overdubs, "Holding Time" showcases Ricci's impressive mastery of his horn and his well-schooled compositional ability. Backed by a trio of UNF Jazz Program grads: pianist Joshua Bowlus, bassist Billy Thornton and drummer Peter Miles, the overall feel is very traditional straight-ahead, but with modern harmonic touches. The quartet are obviously comfortable with each other and play with a joyous abandon that makes for enjoyable listening.
"Mode Time" opens things up swinging hard and showcases Ricci, sweet and melodic, even while burning (I especially love his unexpected "held" notes), over a rhythm section that charges ahead unstoppably. Bowlus also adds a savory solo on this fun tune. Proving he can write (and play!) the ballads as well. "Ballerina" is a lovely slow waltz with a memorable melodic theme. Pianist Bowlus is given a rewarding spotlight turn, and Ricci's sensitive work entirely avoid the maudlin cliches that often mar ballad work. Instead his lines rise and drift gracefully and are worth revisiting to cherish their intricacies. Meanwhile, the swinging version of the Van Huesen/Burke chestnut "Here's That Rainy Day" is one of the highlights, with a nice bass solo, solid drum work and some of Ricci's hottest playing.
The original title track shows Ricci taking the traditional and successfully bending it into a modern harmonic direction, while "Slow Tango" is a nod to the artist's Argentinean cultural roots that is sultry and shimmering. The album ends on a high note with the delightful Ben Webster tune, "Bounce Blues." Ricci kills on this tune that will have even the most undemonstrative listener head bopping and toe tapping. "Holding Time" is an impressive debut from a young saxophonist/composer whom I hope we hear much more from in the future.