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In the early 1990s, saxophone titans Michael Brecker and Bob Mintzer released Twin Tenors, a two-tenor-plus-rhythm album now considered a classic. Thirty years later, alto saxophonists Rajiv Halim, Sharel Cassity and Greg Ward lead the extremely musical Chicago-based sextet Altoizm on a recording so in-the-pocket as to call to mind that Brecker-Mintzer pairing.
The three altos take similar approaches to their horns, including tone and timbre, but hardly lack individuality. And this seven-tune, self-titled set of original fare is specifically designed for technically accomplished players, showcasing the group’s propensity for navigating the intricacies of harmonically complex bebop. But more than a casual appraisal is required to analyze the differences among the principal players.
Cassity, dubbed “Bop-Along” by the late Jimmy Heath, contributes two similar uptempo tunes. “Cedar Grove,” based on Cedar Walton’s “Fantasy in D,” features her seemingly effortless lyrical blowing followed by Ward’s more forcefully articulated style. The tune vamps out after a short and effective group improvisation.
The pensive optimism of Ward’s “The Mighty Mayfly of Truth” emphasizes the mastery involved in thoughtful arranging heard throughout this set. Fluid counterpoint alternates with harmonized, sinewy saxophone lines while the rhythm section consistently punctuates, culminating in a totally balanced listening experience.
The highly rhythmic altered blues of “Bembe’s Kids” features its composer, Halim, blowing the most aggressive alto, unleashing a barrage of notes while maintaining appreciative melodic contour. Richard D. Johnson’s fluid piano improv follows. Solos aside, the synchronicity between bassist Jeremiah Hunt and drummer Michael Piolet makes them equal stars of this session. The rhythmic hits within their grooves propel this stellar sextet beyond the realm of a solid blowing session.
— James Rozzi