It's always great when a jazz star, off the national scene for years, reappears, sounding just as good as ever. This is the case with tenor sax veteran Hadley Caliman and his new CD, Gratitude
Out of the mainstream, living in Seattle, teaching and playing local gigs, Caliman's recording shows his horn hasn't been idle all this time. He is joined here by a group of first-rate musicians - the great Joe Locke on vibes, the lyrical Tom Marriott, trumpet, the steady Phil Sparks, bass, and veteran West Coast stalwart Joe LaBarbera, drums.
Caliman was at the height of his career in the '70s when he released four records after stints with Gerald Wilson's big band, Willie Bobo and Don Ellis. Starting out in Los Angeles in the '50s, he studied with Dexter Gordon and was greatly influenced by the tenor legend, becoming known as "Little Dex."
Now at 77, Hadley stands out again in nine numbers, including his four originals. Most feature the trumpet-sax blend with Locke's vibes perfectly framing the sound. All three front-liners take solos, backed by the yeoman-like support of Sparks and LaBarbera.
Caliman's gutsy, hard swinging style acknowledges Gordon's influence, especially on three originals - the boppish "Kickin' On the Inside," the Latin-flavored "Comencio" and the romantic "Linda." Note the light, airy lyricism of Marriott on the first, the back-and-forth trades between Locke and LaBarbera on the second and Caliman's lush tone, reminiscent of Coltrane, on the latter. (With this and the familiar "Old Devil Moon", Caliman's ballad-playing becomes pure poetry.)
The full range of Caliman's technique is heard in his free-flowing improvisation on Bronislau Kaper's perennial favorite, "Invitation," while his crisp, straight-forward intonation is displayed on Joe Henderson's "If." Sparks also impressively solos on this.
After hearing this production, one can only hope that Caliman doesn't stay away from the studio too long again.