What’s better in contemporary jazz than a killer tenor sax player? Two killer tenor sax players? That’s one of the main ideas behind The Ripple from veteran sax players Jeff Rupert and George Garzone. The other idea, ostensibly the main theme, is “the ripple.” That refers to Lester Young and how his method of improvisation influenced so many musicians in jazz–even those who didn’t play the sax. The Ripple, therefore, isn’t filled with Lester Young tunes. It’s filled with tunes made famous by those he influenced such as Stan Getz, Eddie Harris, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson.
These themes are important, of course, and they’re what obviously inspired this album. But the true joy of The Ripple is to pull back a bit and listen to Jeff Rupert and George Garzone play together and to take turns. Each one has a distinctive tone–one more mellow and breathy, the other more powerful and straight–but they both employ those rhythmic undercurrents that can be directly attributed to Young. On the surface, this is straightforward be-bop, beautifully played by a quintet (pianist Richard Drexler, drummer Marty Morell and bassist Jeremy Allen) that has shared a stage for decades.
While I’ve listened to Jeff Rupert play many times, usually in conjunction with The Flying Horse Big Band which he leads, George Garzone is less familiar to me. Like Jeff Rupert, he is an educator and currently holds court at the Berklee College of Music. He’s been playing professionally since the early ’70s, and Rupert–who teaches at the University of Central Florida–first appeared on the scene about twenty years later. They’re both considered true masters of the saxophone in contemporary jazz.
I’ve observed in the past that jazz academics often play in a style that focuses on tradition, and that those who play in big bands often focus on precision. Perhaps that’s why The Ripple sounds so perfect, and not in a “that’s not sloppy and spontaneous enough to be jazz” sort of way. Jeff Rupert and George Garzone are so talented and so experienced that it becomes easier to pull away that veneer and study this lesson on Lester Young. You can detect those individual points, take notes, and perhaps pull out some old Lester Young albums as an extra credit project. What better way to spend a beautiful weekend in quarantine, right?