Criss Cross regulars, guitarist Adam Rogers and saxophonist David Binney go back a long way together. Just taking their recorded output over the last few years into account, it is clear they share a common affinity. Much of their recordings, as leaders or side-men, has been focussed on ambitious original material. And so this album, made up of standards and old favourites, is something of a departure for them both. The impetus for “R & B” was a casual standards gig at the 55 bar in New York, Binney’s regular haunt for many years. “It felt good” says Rogers, “The decision was made for a co-led album following the same approach.” Drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Reuben Rogers were recruited for the recording and the resulting 9 tracks heard here on “R & B” make for a very enjoyable straight-ahead session from the four accomplished musicians involved.
Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha” opens the set. Rogers comments “It always struck me as a forward thinking melodic concept for a tune from the 40’s.” The quartet bring it alive with first Binney playing the melody and Rogers the counter line, then the two switch places and to great effect at the end of the tune double up. A warm, life-affirming start to the album. One of the things that stands out for me on Monk’s “Introspection” is the skill with which Gerald Cleaver and Reuben Rogers lay down the cool, precise foundation which allows the two soloists to perform with such freedom and virtuosity. There is a sense that prevails throughout the whole album that all four musicians are enjoying this, perhaps as the set doesn’t involve any original compositions, in a strange way the pressure is off and a freedom manifests itself in simple enjoyment for the music they’re performing. Certainly their version of Jerome Kern’s “In Love In Vein” hits the spot for this listener. Binney’s melodic and slightly bluesy inflections and Roger’s subtle backing open the track up to its romantic, mellow beauty. “It’s a really fun tune to play, one of my favourite things on the record.” comments Binney. And you can tell he means it – he “feels” it so wonderfully well. Wayne Shorter’s “Africaine” was originally from an album of the same name that Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers recorded in 1959 but shelved for two decades. “Wayne is one of my ultimate heroes obviously, and I just love playing his tunes.” says Binney. The drums and bass lay down an awesome Afro-Latin groove which develops into straight swing. Binney and Rogers revel in the swing and produce incredible solos, before bassist Reuben Rogers is given time to deliver a solo over the top of Gerald Cleaver’s in-the-pocket drumming. “Don’t Misunderstand”, a Gordon Parks composition, is thoughtfully performed with an effortless space and consideration that gives a warm, easy-going feel to the track. As Binney says “I just wanted to keep it in that ballad zone on everybody’s instrument, including myself – I usually try to play a lot less on this, and the tune lends itself to that.” Miles Davis’ “Sippin’ at Bell’s” is quite the opposite and the rapport between Rogers and Binney is especially evident here, with the instruments once again trading places throughout before coming together with unified precision. Freddie Hubbard’s “Skydive” sees the two leaders solo in succession to great effect, bringing the best out of Hubbard’s composition. It is for me the subtleties shown on Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin’s timeless classic “My Ship” that the band successfully manage to bring out here, with a sympathetic and affectionate clarity. The melody of the tune is its strength and Rogers’ sensitive approach works perfectly. Reuben Rogers adds a sublime bass solo as the piece then unfolds with a rare eloquence. The album closes with Jimmy McHugh’s “I feel a song coming on.” As Rogers says, “It’s a corny old tune but I love the arrangement.” It rounds off the set nicely. To my mind “R &B” benefits from the artist’s decision to undertake the recording with minimal rehearsal. It has that joyous, spontaneous feel to it that can sometimes be lost with too much planning and arranging. It simply allows the musicians to do what they do so well, play jazz.