MAKING A SCENE
by Jim Hynes
I’ll Never Be the Same
New York City Native tenor saxophonist Jack Brandfield, like many musicians, has an affinity for the Great American Songbook. Brandfield holds a B.M in Jazz Studies from Michigan State University and is currently a scholarship recipient from The Frost School of Music at The University of Miami, where he is completing an M.M in Studio Music and Jazz. At Michigan State he has studied with two artists we have covered on these pages just this year, both recording on the Posi-tone label, saxophonist Diego Rivera and trombonist Michael Dease. He also studied with professors Xavier Davis, Etienne Charles, and Randy Gillespie. Brandfield had the privilege of building close relationships with Professor and guitarist Randy Napoleon and distinguished Professor and world-renowned bassist Rodney Whitaker, working in both of their quartets. Those two appear in this album of trio and duo settings, I’ll Never Be the Same, as mentioned, essentially an album of standards. Note the absence of a drummer.
Brandfield says, “The drumless trio is a sound that has always captivated me since hearing Stan Getz Meets The Oscar Peterson Trio at a young age. That album was a gateway for me to hear all the great tenor players of the 20th Century, such as Ben Webster, Johnny Griffin, and Zoot Sims, who are a few of my favorites. I have always tried to emulate their ability to sing through the horn with confidence and a sense of subtlety and beauty. On the record, I pay tribute to these inspirations by attempting to do what they did best, presenting my favorite melodies with my own voice.” The sparse accompaniment puts Brandfield’s, breathy, robust tone, sensitive playing, and reverent approach on clear display. He stays true to melody of these songs, often laying in the lower registers, never overblowing or grandstanding. He may not have the deep sensuality of Ben Webster’s sound (none do) but that’s as good a reference as any to describe his – “Over the Rainbow” being case in point.
There are some aspects to the album that break up a straight trio recital of these standards. Brandfield has a couple of duo tracks. He pairs with Whitaker on “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” paying tribute to Whitaker’s vast knowledge of Duke Ellington’s legacy. “Over the Rainbow” has the leader duetting with Napoleon, who spent countless hours teaching him the power of presenting melodies with clarity and sophistication. Brandfield adds one original piece, “Where Leaves Change,” his take on the melodic nuances, simplicity, and refinement of the Great American Songbook classics.
Having mentioned those special instances, most of the album is done in a lush trio rendering, with classic restraint and tenderness. Listen to the title track as Brandfield’s lead meshes so perfectly with Whitaker’s bowed bass and Napoleon’s extraordinary melodic note choices, as just one shining example that can easily apply to the others as well. The great guitarist John Pizzarelli was impressed, saying, “Jack Brandfield makes me happy. He knows the history of his instrument and yet he wants to carve out his own path, keeping an eye on all the greats in his rearview mirror. I know they are smiling.” This is a beautiful, relaxing late-night album. Play this, and you will assuredly sleep soundly.