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Wayne Escoffery | “Alone”

Saxophonist/Composer Wayne Escoffery Reflects on Love, Loss, and Solitude on his Stunning New Album, an Atmospheric and Haunting Mood Piece

Due out August 30, 2024 via Smoke Sessions, Alone Features a Remarkable All-Star Quartet with

Gerald Clayton, Ron Carter, and Carl Allen

In the summer of 2023, saxophonist and composer Wayne Escoffery found himself alone in a way that he’d never quite experienced before. He was away from home, on sabbatical in Europe with a month to himself between tours. A long-term relationship had just ended, and he was confronted with the loss of friendships that he’d once valued. Worst of all, he’d suffered a broken finger that left him unable to play the saxophone for the first time since he’d picked up the horn in high school.

“Normally, my coping mechanism would be the saxophone,” Escoffery laments. “But even that wasn’t available to me for about nine weeks, so I just had to be alone in my thoughts.”

He made good use of this alone time, conceptualizing the music that makes up his striking and singular new album, Alone. What emerged from that solitude was an extended mood piece, an album unique in Escoffery’s typically wide-ranging catalogue for its sustained atmosphere of stark melancholy and searching introspection. Due out August 30, 2024, via Smoke Sessions Records, the music is breathtakingly interpreted by an all-star quartet featuring iconic bassist Ron Carter, drummer Carl Allen, and pianist Gerald Clayton.

Escoffery hails from London, England, and lived a nomadic existence before finding a formative mentor in Jackie McLean, settling in New Haven, Connecticut, and then attending the Hartt School in Hartford to study with the legendary saxophonist. A Grammy Award and DownBeat Critics Poll winner, Escoffery has performed with such revered artists as Herbie Hancock, Abdullah Ibrahim, Al Foster, Tom Harrell, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Ralph Peterson, Wallace Roney, Monty Alexander, and others. He is also a long-time member of the Grammy award-winning Mingus Big Band and one of the band’s musical directors.

The saxophonist has enjoyed a decades-long relationship with Carter, considering the bass giant a mentor since his days in grad school at the Thelonious Monk Institute, now the Hancock Institute. He’s since recorded as a member of Carter’s Great Big Band, and the two have shared the stage on a number of occasions, but Escoffery was intent on finding the perfect project to feature Carter on an album of his own.

Finding a drummer to pair with Carter, on the other hand, can prove daunting. The sheer weight of his storied legacy can be intimidating, but Allen shares his own history with the bassist and has also been a longtime mentor for Escoffery. He recorded with the saxophonist on his albums Times Change and If Dreams Come True, making the Alone session something of a reunion after a nearly two-decade hiatus.

Clayton is more of a peer to Escoffery, but Alone marks the first time the two have had a chance to play substantially together. “We played together on a few occasions when he was living in New York but haven’t connected much in recent years for whatever reason, though I’ve admired his work with the late Roy Hargrove and more recently with Charles Lloyd. I really appreciate Gerald’s comping and his attention to detail. He has great ears and harmonic understanding, and he sounds amazing on this album.”

The music Escoffery compiled for Alone – a carefully selected blend of original compositions and familiar standards – vividly captures the profound richness and variety of emotion that loneliness can evoke. The repentant, bittersweet “Moments with You” is Escoffery’s most direct reflection on his shattered relationship. There is no vocal on the track, yet Escoffery includes his self-penned lyric for the song anyway, his sentiments bolstering the fragile emotions conveyed by the quartet’s heartrending interpretation.

There’s sadness, too, in Escoffery’s title track, but also a sense of hope, strength, and inner peace, aided immeasurably by the foundation of Carter’s broad-shouldered bassline. Harold Land’s “Rapture” has been a constant in Escoffery’s repertoire since he was invited to pay tribute to the late hard-bop great at San Diego’s Athenaeum Music & Arts Library last fall, and the tune fits the album’s mood exquisitely.

The frigid chill coming off of “The Ice Queen” leaves no doubt that it has a particular inspiration in mind – though Escoffery is quick to insist that its subject is not the same as the former flame whose presence looms so large over the rest of the album – but its air of steely regret encompasses the loss of platonic friendships that becomes inevitable with age and maturation. Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your Smile” seems to dwell in the darkest recesses of that shadow, rendering the tune shrouded and mournful.

“Blues for D.P.” is a Ron Carter classic, written in tribute to the pianist Duke Pearson and originally recorded less than two months after his death in 1980 for Carter’s album Parfait. It was revived by another of Escoffery’s heroes, Grover Washington Jr., on the legendary saxophonist’s 1988 album Then and Now, in a version with Carter and his Miles Davis Quintet bandmate Herbie Hancock.

Of the two bonus tracks (available on CD and digital releases only), “Stella by Starlight” is a recollection of a more tender kind, lingering on an entrancing vision from the past, dimming yet still vibrant. Closing the album, Buddy Johnson’s “Since I Fell for You” pares the band down to the duo of Escoffery and Clayton, painting the tune in austere hues of last-call sorrow.

Alone was conceived during a time of isolation, heartbreak, regret, and reflection, but the experience of the album is far richer even than that. In the end, “I was forced to reflect on life and what was most important to me,” Escoffery concludes. “The concept of this album grew out of that reflection.”

“Alone” was produced by Paul Stache and Damon Smith,

and recorded live in New York at Sear Sound’s Studio C on a 

Sear-Avalon custom console at 96KHz/24bit and mixed to 1/2″ analog tape.

Available in audiophile HD format.

Wayne Escoffery· Alone

Smoke Sessions Records · Release Date: August 30, 2024

Catalog Number: SSR-2405

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