(Blue Bamboo Music)
Houston-based saxophonist Witt has been making a name for himself, and he showcases his wide-ranging talent on these two strong releases. On "A Conversation," Witt brings his classically-trained, full-bodied, post-Coltrane sound to bear on both tenor and soprano saxophones. Joining him are perceptive veteran drummer Soph, and bassist/guitarist Hamilton, who plays one of the two instruments at a time - something that helps add an extra dimension to the recording. All of the songs are Witt originals that recall traditional sax trio elements, while charting new and gratifying new paths.
"Oddly Even" starts things off by living up to its name with an unusual rhythmic feel and Witt hinting at Coltrane and Brecker on his tenor. Hamilton switches to guitar, as Witt moves to soprano on "Clear Skies" and it is a winning combination on this somewhat atmospheric piece. Drummer Soph should also be commended for his interesting work on the drum kit and the balance between the three members is admirable. This sets the tone for the recording as a whole, where more uptempo numbers like "Ne As Jah," "Barracuda" and "Steppin'" alternate with quieter numbers like "Empty Room" and the ballad, "Forever and Always." The powerful "5 X 5" ends this compelling recording on a high note that leaves the listener wanting more from this combo.
"Seasons Ago - The Songs of Alec Wilder
Witt's release with long-time musical partner, pianist Joe Locasio, Seasons Ago, finds this duo exploring some of the songs of the underappreciated American songwriter, Alec Wilder, and the listening public can certainly be pleased that they have unearthed buried treasures like his "A Month in the Country," "Blackberry Winter" and "Moon and Sand" and brought them back out into the light of day. Pianist Marian McPartland offered up a previous recording of the multi-talented Wilder's works in 1973, but the composer's songbook of sophisticated, often melancholic compositions was barely touched - this recording only offers one overlap - the haunting "Where Are The Good Companions?"
On this pleasing record, Witt sticks to soprano throughout, and his classical tone is the perfect complement to Locasio's lush voicings, as they combine to capture the composer's romantic yearnings perfectly. The high level of musicality and years of experience playing together is easily apparent, and the richness of the playing might lead one to suspect that there is an orchestra lurking in the background rather than a mere duet program. Presented in a crisp and warm recording of tremendous loveliness, this album avoids growing stale, thanks to the fresh trove of absorbing songs and sensitive relation of the two exemplary players involved. I've been enjoying this recording over and over as therapy for my troubled soul, and I'm sure you will too.
On another note, Witt will be performing in Chicago in the fall and I heartily recommend catching him.