Alexander McCabe’s Body & Soul
Alexander McCabe is a brilliant saxophonist, pianist, and composer. He was a featured soloist with the Ray Charles Orchestra and has toured with the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Big Band. You have almost certainly heard his music in the movies and on television.
Body and Soul is his sixth album as a bandleader and brings along masters of piano, bass, and drums to create a brilliant jazz quartet. It is Paul Odeh on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, and Craig Wuepper on drums. And while his previous albums were worthy of rapt attention, Body and Soul may be his best effort to date.
Even McCabe says of the album, “This is the best and most satisfying album I’ve done as a leader. It was fun working with these guys, because not only are they great musicians, but also very close friends. We had several rehearsals and they were all very involved with the musical/artistic process, they all contributed ideas that help make the music dynamic!”
The album of six tracks contains four McCabe originals. The two cover songs are definitely worth McCabe’s re-imagining. The first is the title track, Body and Soul, the 1930 song by Johnny Green. McCabe’s alto sax is vibrant and nimble. Wuepper brush work is attentive and Odeh’s piano is understated but fitting.
The second cover is Countdown by John Coltrane, featured on his 1961 release Giant Steps. The song features the famous Coltrane changes and McCabe handles it all beautifully. Eschewing the 32-bar drum solo of the original, McCabe jumps right in with the alto sax and gets to work. It was the album closer and McCabe definitely left it all on the field.
The first McCabe original is Elena, a waltz played on soprano sax and named for his niece. It is a lovely piece with its swaying motion and swing from the whole quartet. That is followed by If I See Her, a slower-paced ballad that contains great riffs from Odeh on piano and beautiful alto sax work by McCabe.
Christi’s Day opens with a cool bounce from the piano to be joined by the riveting play of McCabe on the alto. It is a livelier piece that takes all the best from the whole quartet. Bass and drums drive the track relentlessly and Odeh again gets cool passes on the piano. Listen for Okegwo’s bass, not just on his solo. These fellas came to play.
Angela was named for Wuepper’s wife. It is an andante ballad that sounds like something Coltrane would have written. It is a beautiful work that bears many replays. McCabe’s alto sax is a treasure.
Alexander McCabe’s Body and Soul is, for me, the most remarkable outing in his six-album repertoire. It is warm and adventurous, deliberate but delicate, and it is a brilliant expression of who he is as a musician, a composer, and human being.