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Those who have followed the career of alto-sax master Charles McPherson — starting with his association with Charles Mingus in 1960 — will find this latest release something of a departure from his bop roots, and a charming one at that. Inspired by his daughter Camille and her prominent position in the San Diego Ballet, Jazz Dance Suites inspires physical movement through linked vignettes of varying tempo and tone.McPherson separates his two suites (“Song of Songs” and “Sweet Synergy Suite”) with “Reflection on an Election,” a six-minute meditation on the presidential outcome from 2016 that could also provide a bluesy background for a noir-ish detective film. The suites themselves embrace world music and the leader’s personal history. “Heart’s Desire” sounds Arabic at times and “Sweet Synergy” flirts with salsa, while “Hear My Plea” evokes Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.”
First recorded 25 years ago, “Marionette” infuses the second suite with a bit of bop; a bright, angular tune, it separates the purple-hued “Nightfall” and the coyly patterned “Song of the Sphinx.” McPherson provides ample space for his excellent bandmates, including a solo piano feature for Randy Porter (“After the Dance”) and a duo performance by guitarist Yotam Silberstein and vocalist Lorraine Castellanos (“Praise”). And trumpeter Terell Stafford’s rich tone and elegant phrasing warm every cut on “Sweet Synergy Suite.”McPherson himself sounds alternately lyrical and rambunctious. He suggests delight and innocence on “Wedding Song,” but when he launches into his solo on “Sweet Synergy,” his exuberance is almost overwhelming. One can only imagine how such extremes would inspire professional dancers. — Sascha Feinstein