Composer and saxophonist Rob Reddy’s Bechet: Our Contemporary is one of the more interesting tribute albums released recently. True to its title, the album honors the pioneering soprano saxophonist not by mere regurgitation like some, but by using his music for creative inspiration. It is as though he is presenting a musical vision of what Bechet’s music might be, was he playing today.
Reddy makes clear what he feels the album is after in the liner notes: “The idea of entering into a conversation with an iconic body of work as a means of engaging my own questions and those of the time and culture in which I live was at the heart of what I wanted to do with the compositions of Sidney Bechet.” If success is defined as fulfilled intention, Bechet: Our Contemporary is an unqualified success. Perhaps even more importantly, if success is defined as great listening, that success is equally unqualified.
Reddy sets up his dialogue by alternating the album’s eight song program between his own original compositions and those of Bechet. He opens with his own “Up – South.” A clear indication from the very start of where he is going as he takes the New Orleans traditions associated with Bechet and translates them into an inventive modern idiom. It is much like a contemporary deconstruction of the tradition. New Orleans and its vibe are always there, sometimes up front, often in the shadows.
This even more evident in the treatment of the Bechet songbook. The atmospheric classic “Petite Fleur” and the lengthy exploration of Mid-Eastern exoticism in his work on “Song of Medina” give Reddy and his ensemble the opportunity to stretch, and they take it with gusto. The other Bechet pieces on the set are “Chant in the Night” which has Lisa Parrott guesting on the baritone sax and a lively “Broken Windmill,” which has Oscar Noriega guesting on clarinet.
Reddy’s soprano sax is complimented throughout by John Carlson on trumpet and Curtis Fowlkes on trombone. They are joined by Charles Burnham on violin, Marika Hughes on cello, Marvin Sewell on guitars, Dom Richards on double bass and Pheeroan Aklaff on drums. Reddy’s arrangements give each and every one of them plenty of time to shine, and they make sure to take advantage of their opportunities.