Evolution - 7.28
Dreaming In Color - 6.29
Kerry'S Bossa - 5.48
Dearly Departed - 5.53
Angelic - 7.08
(living the dash) - 5.15
K.T. Blues - 8.08
The Little Men - 7.40
Family Tree - 5.34
There is a strong inner pulse that fuels the creativity inside a musician. While the concept is not exclusive to jazz, it is the heart and soul of the jazzman (and jazzwoman). Music is not what you do; it is built on who you are and what you've experienced. It can't be created in a vacuum isolated from other influences or the triumphs and tragedies - large and small - that surround us on a global or personal scale. If that was possible, the music would be neither personal nor interesting.
The inner urge is both creative and strong for saxophonist Greg Abate on his latest recording, Evolution, which presents his most personal and heart-felt music. Following a decade of fine recording projects as a bandleader and horn for hire, it signals a musical evolution and celebrates a personal evolution.
Since the early 1990s, this former Ray Charles Orchestra member has built a solid bop-oriented sound and developed a strong following both in his southern New England home base and at venues across the U.S. and around the world. He's known as a formidable alto player but finds that all of the other reed instruments have a place in his music - and as this recording shows for the first time with doubling and dubbing - often in the same tune and at the same time.
It is unusual for any jazz player to not include a number of standards or jazz chestnuts in a recording as reference points for listeners. The material on Evolution is all Abate for several reasons. Greg has evolved into a skilled writer. He's confident about the material - which was embraced with enthusiasm by is recording mates, and its inspiration all comes from a challenging, sometimes dark period in his life from which he emerged last year with renewed vigor and purpose.
Without getting into too much detail, let's just say it was a time in which he lost his parents and went through significant domestic turmoil. He continued to make music and teach music even as the distractions and personal challenges chipped away at his psyche.
"By successfully pushing through my pain, I have reached a point to which the concept of this recording comes," Greg says. "The compositions are very special to me as the inspiration came from a deep place."
Abate put together a dream band for this session. It included the versatile and soulful pianist James Williams, whose talent also graced Bop City: Live at Birdland, Greg's first CD as a leader, in 1991; Harvie S., the bassist formerly known as Harvie Swartz, who is another past bandstand and studio collaborator; and veteran all-star drummer Billy Hart. Greg first met Billy while touring Europe several years ago. He went to hear a concert featuring Hart with pianist Kenny Werner and bassist Ray Drummond, and knew right away that he wanted to record with Hart. When Greg called, Billy answered in the affirmative.
"Evolution," the opening title track, is an energetic 24-bar minor blues that opens with Hart's call to action. It is graced with unusual reharmonizations and turnarounds between solos. Greg plays alto and overdubbed his tenor on the melody to create a saxophone chorus effect on this personal and positive anthem.
The dream state can be fickle, teasing and elusive. Greg says he seldom remembers them once he wakes up, yet one recent vibrant dream was so vivid, it inspired the jazz waltz "Dreaming in Color." He retained visions of walking in Manhattan on a sunny, snowy day and visiting a toy store, where paper images of toys came to life when you noticed them.
"Kerry's Bossa" is the first of two tunes here inspired by Greg's girlfriend, Kerry Tracey, whose "beautiful heart and spirit" have put a lot of spark and love in his evolution. Greg opens on soprano sax and adds a second horn line for harmonic effect. Note Williams' solo that digs into the heart of the matter, and the rock solid support from Harvie and Billy. While this is the first chance Greg has had to record this original on one of his projects, it has also graced "The Jeff Eaton Latin Project" and is in the chart book for Ken Crowell's The Chops Big Band at Ohlone College in Fremont, Calif.
The horror of September 11 brought out a lot of pent-up emotions in people everywhere - reminding all of us about the importance of loved ones and the deeper sense of loss inside us. Universal traits to be sure, yet personal and unique. Greg was wrestling with his personal issues that morning even before learning of the World Trade Center tragedy. After conversations with his doctor, his girlfriend and other friends, he headed to Rhode Island College where he teaches music part-time. He sought out his favorite grand piano and began writing "Dearly Departed," which is dedicated to his late parents, Vera and Charles and all who perished on September 11. He has since expanded the dedication to acknolwledge the recent passing of Nick Brignola, a great saxophonist with whom Greg loved to work. Greg leads on soprano, with a tenor sax harmony overdubbed, then sticks to soprano exclusively for his solo, which leads to a high-energy rhythm section vamp. There's a positive vibe throughout about the nature of humanity and resolve.
Greg adds some flute colorings to his alto work on "Angelic," a tune inspired by his daughter, Jessica. "She is a lovely person and a beautiful young lady," he says with a father's pride. "She never ceases to amaze me in all she is and does." The rhythm section makes the dance feel of this tune sparkle with joy and vitality.
Abate was in church one Sunday with his sons when the priest began speaking about the need to control "the now" in our lives. He noted that a tombstone shows the date we're born and the date we left this planet. And in between is "the dash" - the life we lived. "'Living the - Dash' represents my enhanced awareness of time, the meaning of life, and how I live and choose to live my life," Greg says.
This is a hard-driving alto showcase that will make longtime Abate fans smile. His intro and two solo choruses prompt a searing response from Williams before Abate and Hart trade fours on the way out.
Greg wrote "K.T. Blues" on the bandstand one night with Kerry in mind and dedicated it to her at that first improvisational moment. His alto work with a harmonic overdub on tenor gives it a full blues band feel. Everybody gets to solo on this soulful piece.
"The Little Men" is a song for his sons, Gregory 12, and Anthony, 7. The title what his girlfriend Kerry calls the boys. "They are full of energy and have such a spark about them. They keep me going and in shape," Greg says. He employs both alto and flute on the tune, which opened with a free drums-and-alto introduction, a ballad break and a shift into s surging tempo.
We've heard little from Abate's baritone work over the years, but it makes a strong appearance here on the closer, "The Family Tree," an homage to Abate's extended family, including friends who have become like family. The baritone is the primary workhorse, with some alto overdubbing for harmonic effects. At times, you'd swear he'd hired an invisible big band reed section. It swings with teasing energy as the bari and piano trade eight-bar phrases for three choruses before Harvie and Billy add their voices to the conversation.
There's an undiminished joy and energy throughout Evolution that Greg says reflects his "new-found happiness." That vibe was felt by his bandmates, who liked Abate's wide-ranging writing and wanted to put their own stamp on it, as well.
"It's a challenge to do a whole album of originals," Abate said. "These tunes all mean a lot to me. I am really happy with them - and with the way my life is going right now."
- Ken Franckling
Dreaming in Color (6:29)
Kerry's Bossa (5:48)
Dearly Departed (September 11) (5:53)
Living the - Dash (4:56)
K.T. Blues (8:08)
The Little Men (7:40)
Family Tree (5:34)
All compositions by Greg Abate (BMI)
Greg Abate - alto, tenor, soprano, baritone saxophones and flute
James Williams - piano
Harvie S - bass
Billy Hart - drums
Produced by Mark Morganelli
Executive Producer: Greg Abate
Greg Abate plays Selmer Saxophones and is a Selmer clinician
For press material and schedule, contact Peter DeVeber at:
Recorded at Carriage House Studios
Engineered by John Shyloski
Back cover photo of Greg, Anthony and Gregory Abate by Peter Amaral
For bookings, contact Susan Greenberg of Entertainment Exclusives at
GREG SENDS SPECIAL THANKS AND APPRECIATION TO "The Trio Excellante"...for their superb
work and beautiful playing and to 1201 Music and Mark Morganelli for his fine work and wonderful ears. This session was problem-free and a lot of fun. We ran through the
tunes on Feb.11 and recorded, mixed and mastered on Feb.12th.
ALSO, HEARTFELT THANKS TO Debra Burns for her spiritual guidance throughout
this recording project, to Melissa Ireland and Peter Amaral for the cover art, to my family and friends, and to Kerry Tracey for her love, assistance and inspiration.