Tenor saxophonist Benny Golson turned 80 years old this past January, and despite his advancing age he's obviously not about to hang up his axe. His illustrious career began more than 50 years ago, during which time he played with such greats as Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie. Not only has he composed numerous jazz standards like "Killer Joe" and "I Remember Clifford," his film and television scoring includes well known shows like M*A*S*H, The Mod Squad, and Mission: Impossible. Golson has recently released a new CD, New Time, New 'Tet, on the Concord Jazz label. The album contains 70 minutes of great music played by a newly assembled sextet.
Some of the best passages on New Time, New 'Tet are those played by the terrific ensemble of sidemen. Two musicians, in particular, carry quite a bit of the weight: Eddie Henderson on trumpet and Steve Davis on trombone. Henderson was a member of the Herbie Hancock Sextet in the early '70s. His work throughout this album is exemplary. I especially liked his soloing on the rollicking take of Sonny Rollins' "Airegin." His muted work on "L'adeau" is exquisite. Steve Davis played in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers for a short spell, late in Blakey's career. "Gypsy Jingle-Jangle" gives Davis a chance to stretch out, which he does with great style. These guys really deserve special mention for their contributions.
Another Hancock alumnus, Buster Williams, anchors the group with deft bass playing. His slippery, yet elegant, work really elevates the album's opener, "Grove's Groove." He and drummer Carl Allen share some nice interplay on a fun interpretation of Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy." Speaking of Allen, his percussion work forms a solid foundation as he brings endless rhythmic variety to the album. The recently departed trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard employed the young Carl Allen for some eight years – that alone speaks volumes about the quality of Allen's work. Rounding out the sextet is pianist Mike LeDonne. LeDonne's lightning quick runs bring excitement and unpredictability to each track on New Time, New 'Tet.
Jazz adaptations of classical work ("L'adeau," "Verdi's Voice") share space with uniquely arranged jazz standards like the aforementioned Monk and Rollins pieces. Al Jarreau stops by to add his distinctive vocals to Golson's classic "Whisper Not." Much of the remaining time is given over to new Golson originals. In other words, eclecticism is the key to this album's success. Of course, presiding over it all is the vital and adventurous tenor soloing of Golson himself – and he sounds like he's having an absolute blast. There aren't many jazz greats of Golson's era that are still around, let alone sounding this strong. New Time, New 'Tet is a veritable feast of delectable hard bop from one of the masters.