The most appealing thing about Hadley Caliman, save for his very eloquent name, is his equally eloquent and understated tenor saxophone playing. Firmly in a post-Coltrane context, Caliman plays a virile and muscular tenor saxophone whose tone compels because of its carefully crafted rough edges. Straight Ahead follows up his 2008 Origin release Gratitude.
Caliman joins a ratified group of Left Coast jazz musicians who interrupted their careers, including Art Pepper, Frank Morgan, Ed Reed, and Dexter Gordon (if you count his expatriation), among others. Caliman was active from the late 1960s through 1980, recording with Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles as well as Bobby Hutcherson and Freddie Hubbard. Then, he dropped out of sight, resurfacing with Gratitude.
Caliman's song selection begins with his '60s original "Cigar Eddie," a hard bop scone smelling of scotch and cigarette smoke. Caliman and trumpeter Thomas Marriott summon a Lee Morgan?Benny Golson vibe as deep as the Grand Canyon and wide as Caliman's broad, raspy tone. He spins a Latin vibe through the majority of Straight Ahead, most clearly manifested on the Thomas Marriott original "Cathlamet" and Lee Morgan's "Totem Pole."
Caliman achieves a grand after-hours milieu on the ballads "You Leave Me Breathless" and "Lush Life." Caliman's quintet is responsive to his needs and he returns the favor by sharing his solo space with Marriott and pianist Eric Verlinde. Caliman is one of those rare gems put in a safe place and forgotten about until rediscovery, leading to the hope of hearing more from this fine saxophonist.