Australian saxophonist Andy Sugg’s recent album,Tenorness, is nothing less than a deeply felt love letter to his instrument. Recorded with two different Andy Sugg Groups in those two darkly glittering Gothams of jazz, New York and Melbourne, the eight tracks on Tenorness span the breadth of the tenors expression in modern jazz.
As Sugg mentions in his wry and enlightening liner notes, the sax largely exists today because the visionaries of 20th Century Jazz adopted the visionary invention ofAdolphe Sax and ran with it. And ran and ran and ran with it.
Was it the vocal quality, the blues expression in the machines throat that got to them? Was it the range that the horn can encompass, from the ballad’s indigo sigh a la Getzto the biting snap of a Pharaoh or Trane? Was it the often otherworldlyness of the tone that suggested new poetics as the music became ever more sophisticated and arcane? Across Tenorness, Sugg answers these questions through example and artistry.
The NYC sessions are more electric and fusion-textured, the Melbourne tracks more acoustic. Opener ‘Out of The Office’ is funky and phat, with Sugg biting and intense and Sean Wayland creating a dense synth solo from the Miles/Weather Report groove.
The ballad ‘Little Sparrow’ is wistful, with Sugg’s modern, vibratoless tone saying all it needs to say. Solo piece ‘The Truer Thing’ brings to mind cocoas and blues and a line from a poem about John Coltrane by Michael Harper:
“In the eyes of my first son are the browns
of these men and their music”
The NYC rhythm section of Matt Clohsey (bass) and Mark Whitfield (drums) really push the groove of ‘Special K’ in the best way, pushing Sugg to a strutting, joyous solo.
The title track ‘Tenorness’ is from the Melbourne sessions and rhymes with ‘Tenderness’ in its ballad dynamic and the simpatico piano comp. of Andy Vance.
‘Shimmy Hop”s Afro groove and ‘B22”s second line NOLA jump were recorded a world apart but cohere through Sugg’s verve and taste; the former’s Trane/Elvin horn/drums conversation and the latter’s smart and piquant double-tracked tenor standing out.
Tenorness leaves us with the heavy electric funk of ‘Columbia’ – synth washes and below-the-belt bass and almost electric horn – suggesting a future that the tenor is hurtling towards. It has often been the chosen instrument of the music’s seekers – those who push and rend the envelope. A younger generation is now doing it too.
Andy Sugg deserves a thanks for being part of that seeking tribe, while still reminding us of the roots that now look for new earth.