Feturing Gabor Szabo
Moving over to the CTI label with Creed Taylor, Paul Desmond injects a bit of the 1970s into his sound, obtaining agreeable if not totally simpatico results. Here, the cool altoist is teamed with the progressive-slanted drumming of Jack DeJohnette (who might have been too busy a drummer for his taste), and Bob James' electric and acoustic pianos, with Ron Carter as the bass anchor, Gene Bertoncini on rhythm guitar, and, most interestingly, another individualist, Gabor Szabo, on solo electric guitar. For the first and only time, even taking into account the most inspired moments of Jim Hall, Desmond is not the most interesting soloist on his own record, for it is Szabo who most consistently draws you in with his mesmerizing incantations over vamps from the rhythm section. For those who missed it the first time, Desmond remakes "Take Ten" - without the Middle Eastern elements - "Romance de Amor" is eventually dominated by Szabo, and the inclusion of "Was a Sunny Day" proves that Desmond's involvement with the music of Paul Simon in 1970 was not a passing infatuation. Don Sebesky is credited with the "arrangements" but his orchestrating hand is not felt except for a single solo cello (George Ricci) in an adaptation of Purcell ("Music for a While"). It's a cautious change of pace for Desmond, although the fiercer context into which he was placed doesn't really fire his imagination.
All Music Guide
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Mo saxophonist ever had as pure a tone as Paul Desmond and it's doubt-ful-at least in this millennium-that anyone ever will. The sound of his alto was sheer sonic poetry: delicate like fine perfume, poised like a swan gliding across a pond-But Desmond didn't lean on his otherworldly, utterly seductive, tone to carry the day. He was also a brilliant improviser with a superb gift for spontaneous melody. His solos had the logical construction of a well-crafted composition-complete with fetching beginnings, enchanting middles and perfect endings-and Skylark, his first CTI recording, is laden with them.
Dave Brubeck's name seems to naturally precede or follow that of Paul Desmond's, so intertwined were their careers. From 1950 to 1967, the wildly successful Brubeck Quartet showcased the award-winning altoist; his classic tune, 'Take Five." helped vault the band into superstar status. With the quartet's dissolution, Desmond could finally take center stage and reap the recognition and acclaim that had always come to him secondhand.
' Throughout his tenure with Brubeck. Desmond had made occasional recordings under his own name, often in the company of the brilliant guitarist Jim Hall. Now a free man. Desmond started up a solo career in eamest In the late '60s, he began an association with producer Creed Taylor and arranger Don Sebesky. When Taylor formed CTI in 1970, with Sebesky in tow. it was logical that the saxophonist would follow.
Skylark ingeniously mixes the production strategies of Desmond's earlier solo projects with Taylor and Sebesky's new formula In its prominent use of guitar, Skylark echoes the altoist's encounters with Hall. Standards-Desmond's basic fare-appear, as does his "Take Ten," a "Take Five" derivation that first appeared on a 1963 solo album.
But the guiding hands of the CTI architects are also everywhere. Just look at key members of the personnel: drummer Jack DeJohnette.
guitarist Gabor Szabo, keyboardist Bob James-these were cutting edge players of the fusion movement of the time-not exactly sidemen one expects on a Desmond recording. The atmosphere is decidedly modem: James uses electric piano liberally and Szabo's solos often have an exploratory, modal flavor that reflected the post-Coltrane era.
The repertoire also reflects the CTI mode. Pop songs are taken on (Paul Simon's "Was A Sunny Day") as well as classical adaptations (Purcell's "Music For A While") and folk derivations ("Romance de Amor,") all exhibiting Sebesk's characteristic handiwork.
Skylark has a best of both worlds feel; there's plenty of typically gorgeous Desmond playing amidst all of the textural finery and contemporary sheen of an up-to-the-minute CTI project The alternate takes of Indian Summer," "Music For A While" and "Skylark" give us a chance to hear how Desmond actually varied solos whose structural perfection can tempt one to mistakenly assume that they were composed of pre-arranged ideas. Mo. this saxophonist was a true improviser, and the more examples of his work we can get a hold of, the better. Two of the alternates have slight changes in arrangement: "Skylark" differs from the released take in that it omits a piano solo: "Music For A While" replaces the cello with an acoustic guitar.
Force of individuality always wins out No matter the setting or the material, what never gets tost is the enchantment of Desmond's magisterial playing. Skylark reminds us again of his extraordinary lyrical gifts and uncanny ability to convey powerful expression through understatement Listen to his solos on "Indian Summer." 'Take Ten" or practically anything else on this outstanding recording and try to recall the last time you heard subtly impassioned and rigorously intelligent playing of that caliber from a contemporary jazz musician. It hurts to say it but Desmond was one of a kind.
- Steve Futterman, 1997