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Alto saxophonist Vincent Herring nearly canceled the in-studio recording sessions for Preaching to the Choir, his latest release, after contracting COVID-19 and suffering the continued excruciating after-effects of debilitating rheumatoid arthritis.
But Herring, who’s chalked up lengthy sideman gigs and recordings with Nat Adderley, Cedar Walton and Louis Hayes, and has more than 20 leader dates to his name, needn’t feel insecure. For starters, the A-list musicians he recruited have his back. That would be pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Yasushi Nakamora and drummer Johnathan Blake, who are ever-poised to deliver the utmost in emphatic comping and exciting, free-flight solos.
Once the musicians were in the studio and the tape was rolling, Herring seems to have forgotten the pain and typically blows from his toes. Following the medium grooving original, “Dudli’s Dilemma,” Herring and company give new life to an old warhorse, “Old Devil Moon,” by borrowing the bass line from Benny Golson’s famous “Killer Joe.” Chestnut’s soloing always begins softly and builds, making him a perfect foil to Herring’s gangbusters start-to-finish improvising. Interludes and vamps heard throughout this 10-song set lend freshness to the bop sandwich approach of tune-solos-tune-out.
Herring’s affinity for classic grooves is apparent not only in his adherence to straightahead jazz, but also in his inclusion of old-school R&B. Lionel Richie’s “Hello” works well as a heartfelt instrumental ballad. Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” is relayed as a solid bossa, especially with Blake’s extended drum solo coda.
Herring is relatively pain-free now because of his doctors’ commitments to finding a solution. May Preaching to the Choir be only his first in a long line of joyous sermons from the bandstand. — James Rozzi