Myron Walden‘s Countryfied isn’t strictly a jazz album, as the tenor saxophonist himself explains in the album notes. This hour of music, spread over eleven Walden original compositions, was “inspired by what could be broadly described as roots music of the South.” The music is an amalgamation of jazz, blues, and soul, with a little country thrown in for good measure. Walden’s tenor soars above it all, powerful in tone whether playing pure melody or screaming passionate exclamations.
Backing Walden on all but one track are Oz Noy on guitar, Ron Oswanski on organ, and Kenneth Salters on drums. The trio does an exemplary job of matching the mood of Walden’s leads. Tenor saxophone definitely dominates the proceedings, but as bandleader Walden extracts sympathetic support at all times. “Between Us” is the sole track that deviates from the aforementioned line-up, with Steven Elliot on guitar, Jared Gold on organ, and Kenneth Salters behind the drum kit. It’s among the more laid-back tracks on the album.
Countryfied opens with the searing title track, a slow groover featuring Noy rocking out on guitar behind Walden’s writhing sax. The mood is effectively set; this music is meant to be felt on a gut level. The next track only reinforces that mood, as “What Will Be Will Be” slows down the tempo but amps up the emotional output. Walden plays some transcendent lines here, with a spirit-lifting melody carrying the tune.
Oz Noy makes his axe do some fantastic talking during “When My Body Gets Weak,” taking a couple fluid solos. He also gets down to business on “If It Wasn’t For My Pride,” a tune featuring some of the most intense ensemble interplay on Countryfied. If there’s a weak point to the album, it’s a few too many easygoing ballads that pad the album. That’s not to say the playing isn’t up to par — it always is. But as individual compositions, tracks such as “Before You” and “I Get Lonely Sometimes” aren’t especially distinguished despite maintaining a warm, soulful atmosphere.
Myron Walden’s Countryfied works as a jazz album for people who don’t normally listen to jazz. That’s not to suggest fans accustomed to more straight ahead playing shouldn’t check it out. But it’s definitely worth pointing out that Countryfied is an excellent choice for anyone interested in improvised instrumental music who might be a bit timid to explore a traditional jazz sound. The soulful emotions are strong and carry right through from beginning to end.