September  2002

Bob Kindred with Larry Willis - Gentle Giant of the Tenor Sax
Mapleshade CD 09032
Released: 2001

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on DVD] What do you get when you combine a record label known for sweating all the details with an extremely talented A/R director/pianist and a tenor saxophonist who combines Ben Webster's big, warm sound, Stan Getz' dry coolness, John Coltrane's improvisational aggressiveness, and Johnny Hodges' affinity for the melodic line into a sonic signature indisputably his own? That’s easy. You have the latest jazz CD from Mapleshade Records, Gentle Giant of the Tenor Sax by Bob Kindred with Larry Willis.

Both Mapleshade and pianist Larry Willis are familiar to audiophiles, but just who is tenor saxophonist Bob Kindred and why should you be interested in listening to him? Fair question.

Kindred is a musician's musician who has played with ensembles ranging from organ trios to big bands. Lately, he's been collaborating with jazz icons such as Hank Jones, Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge, Toots Thielemans, and Mel Lewis. With a resume like that, he has everything a jazz giant needs, with the possible exception of individual recognition. This CD should go a long way toward solving that little problem.

"Ethiopia" features Kindred in his best Ben Webster/John Coltrane groove. Thelonius Monk’s "We See" shows how seamlessly Kindred would have fit into any of Monk’s groups -- his command of Monk's intricate use of space and angular melodic lines is as assured as that of anyone I’ve heard, and that includes Sonny Rollins and Coltrane.

But the cut that probably best illustrates Kindred’s mastery over the tenor is his flight on the Billy Strayhorn classic "Blood Count." Kindred imbues the very first few notes with passion and heartache -- and that's when I knew I was in for one of the best readings of this tune I’d ever heard. He has his own style and a unique feel for the tunes he’s working through.

The sound given Kindred’s sax here is first-rate. I could hear his breath blowing through, by and around the reed of his mouthpiece. And the sounds of his fingers pressing on the saxophone's keys were startlingly real. There was a real person, blowing a full-sized tenor sax, playing in my living room.

It’s too bad Willis’ piano didn’t get quite the same treatment. While it’s fully sized and well placed in the recording space, it doesn’t have quite the percussive impact I’ve heard on other, better piano recordings. Still, this is a somewhat minor quibble and shouldn’t take away from anyone's enjoyment of this disc (it certainly didn’t affect mine).

So, just who is Bob Kindred? He’s a tenor saxophonist who deserves wider recognition -- a situation I would expect this CD to remedy. I look forward to hearing more Kindred from Mapleshade, hopefully in a quartet or quintet setting. (Hey Pierre, how about a date with Willis, Walter Booker, Jimmy Cobb and Hamiet Bluiett? Please?)