Greg Skaff | “Polaris” | Available March 19 via SMK Jazz (Smoke Sessions Records)
Guitarist Greg Skaff Enlists Jazz Royalty
Ron Carter and Albert “Tootie” Heath for His
First Ever Guitar/Bass/Drums Trio Album
Polaris, Due Out March 19 via SMK Jazz
Album Reunites the Legendary Bassist and Drummer for
First Time in Decades on Joyously Swinging Session
Photo Credit: Yasmine Skaff
Skaff had been working with Carter over the last several years in the bassist’s Great Big Band, where he stepped in for Russell Malone. Those gigs provided the guitarist with insight into the veteran bassist’s approach, which spurred him to amply prepare before stepping foot into the studio. Once Carter was on board Heath was quick to accept the gig, and once the trio convened many of those preparations went out the window – but were valuable nonetheless.
“I wanted to make sure we knew exactly what we were going to be doing at any minute,” Skaff says. “I know Ron’s like that, so I didn’t want to be caught underprepared. But once we got in there, we didn’t end up sticking to the details. It was really cool because they didn’t just play everything the way I wrote it – in a good way. The tunes ended up being a lot different than the way I would usually play them.”
Skaff largely focused on choosing standard repertoire for the session, wanting to minimize the amount of reading required so that spontaneity and interactivity could come to the fore. The album opens with a buoyant run through “Old Devil Moon,” driven by Carter’s vigorous walking bass and inspired by the well-known rendition from Sonny Rollins’ A Night at the Village Vanguard. It’s followed by the first of two Duke Ellington compositions on the album, “Angelica,” transformed into a New Orleans parade thanks to Heath’s high-spirited second line beat.
Carter’s classic “Little Waltz,” first recorded on Timmons’ The Soul Man! in 1966 (with Carter, Wayne Shorter and Jimmy Cobb), comes in for two interpretations. The first was a spur of the moment decision when Heath was late for the second session, prompting Carter to suggest a duet in the tradition of his storied partnership with Jim Hall, resulting in a lovely, intimate dialogue. The trio version is equally tender, spotlighting the delicate caress of Heath’s brushwork.
The organ tradition that Skaff knows so well is hinted at with a bristling take on Larry Young’s “Paris Eyes,” originally recorded with one of Skaff’s heroes, guitarist Grant Green. Carter’s melodic gifts are showcased on the oft-reprised ballad “Yesterdays,” where the bassist essays the melody following a lush, mood-setting solo guitar intro.
The bassist is the honoree of Skaff’s first original, “Mr. R.C.” – a play on John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.,” a tribute to Paul Chambers, Carter’s predecessor in the Miles Davis Quintet. The leader also contribute the steely title track, named after the North Star – actually a triple star system, making the name doubly apt as both an acknowledgment of the two elders’ role as guiding lights as well as the album’s trio format. (Though Skaff is quick to humbly shrug off any designation of himself as a third “star” in this situation.)
A rare take on Ellington’s “Lady of the Lavender Mist” is exquisite in its restrained beauty, while Carter’s “Caminando,” a regular set opener with the bassist’s current quartet, digs down into an earthy blues feel. Finally, Skaff takes an introspective solo turn on the Harold Arlen classic “Ill Wind.”
Where the future lies for the trio is bound up in the state of uncertainty in which we all find ourselves these days. But much like its namesake star, Polaris shines the way to brighter days ahead thanks to the illuminating interplay of three brilliant artists.
Greg Skaff · Polaris
SMK Jazz · Release Date: March 19, 2021
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