Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson has had a remarkably consistent career. Although he has spent periods (such as the 1970s) in relative obscurity and others as almost a jazz superstar, Henderson's style and sound has been relatively unchanged since the 1960s. This lesser-known album finds Henderson in typically fine form in an acoustic quartet with pianist Chick Corea, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Higgins. Carter and Corea contribute two songs apiece, Henderson gets to perform his "Joe's Bolero" and the tenor sounds majestic on "What's New."
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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The outcome of a musical encounter is never certain. Even though a specific group constellation might promise a creative and convincing result/despite experience and professionalism on the musicians' part in jazz the smallest disagreement (be it one in a concrete musical sense only) can precipitate unexpected aesthetic chain reactions. Though improvisations are generally not undertaken without some sound base or safety net, they too, despite their weak or strong inclination to risk and venture, have a certain repertoire of safety measures - the better they are the less they are apparent. Still, they fairly early on leave the safe platform of the theme where they might have travelled hand-over-hand along a rail of rigid motives. Even on safe ground circumstances might come about that are liable to disturb the inner balance of an artist.
The more exclusive and admirable appears the performance of Joe Henderson. "He mystifies me how he plays so relaxed, nothing ever faces him, nothing, whether in the studio or on stage. He's the same every night", Randy Brecker remarked. Henderson is a fascinating example of how an inner peace and relaxation of the nerves can be mirrored by an outer poise: his outer attitude in playing reflects his inner attitude towards it. "There are no bad times, you don't permit yourself a bad moment! You just disallow that!" 'More easier said than done' some people might think, when hearing Henderson's appeal to his own will. Indeed there are few who are so uncannily capable of maintaining the highest standard at all times (Stan Getz was another) and are apparently immune to outer infringements or the beats of their own bio-rhythm. This too is an expression - though not the only one - of a total maturity; a maturity Joe Henderson already displayed on his debut album "Page One" in 1963.
Naturally, by 1980 his vocabulary had become more extensive, more expressively poignant. On "Mirror, Mirror" the tenorist had reachec a degree of sophistication reminding one of the persuasive powers of an excellent orator, of one who values the content and the quality of his words and not their quantity. Henderson, always one to point out literary influences upon his own musical language, conveys what is weighty and substantial with astounding ease. In this he finds, a close relation in Chick Corea: another 'light-handed' carrier of artistic weight.
Corea does not - how could he - play the discreetly self-effacing role of the exchangeable, accompanying pianist. When he does retreat, however, he does so with the intent to listen perceptively: he lets Henderson develop his line of thought, whilst reserving for himself the right to respond or not, to pick up an idea of Henderson's or lay down a counterpoint to it; interaction is not the art of acoustic regurgitation. What in many cases does not work but results in the mere tonal juxtaposing of sounds becomes the driving force of this musical event: the encounter of two musicians with highly developed personal styles. After having shared a stage together for the first time during a Miles Davis concert in 1967, fairly frequent cooperation between the two was to follow towards the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s, on among others Henderson's "Relaxin' At Camarillo", Ron Carter's "Parade" and in the course of the recording series "Echoes Of An Era", "Echoes Of An Era 2" and "The Griffith Park Collection".
The other two are also individualists of an altruistic disposition who by their outward appearance alone are capable of giving the quartet the appearance of a homogeneous whole. Ron Carter, a steadfast rock in the gush of an improvised sea, who (with or without his pipe) radiates halcyon calm is not by accident one of the bass players preferred by Henderson since the late 60s. And then there is Billy Higgins (whose features seem to have a smile playing around them during almost all moments of playing) who, like the others, seems to have an extrasense for shape and sound and who instinctively knows when constructive modesty is called for.
The very opening displays that relaxed naturalness which to create in an artificial studio atmosphere is anything but a matter of course: "Mirror, Mirror" is a light-footed waltzing composition with a simple pretty melody and a sequence of harmonies suggesting the hand of Chick Corea (who a year before had recorded a duo version with the vibraphone player Gary Burton). Slowing down significantly, Carter's "Candlelight" preserves the gait: a title which - nomen est omen - radiates not only welcome warmth but a concentrated quiet that reaches out to the last note. "Keystone" is a conventional blues displaying a characteristic feature of this musical mode of expression - the use of minor and major thirds - as a thematic motif. Whilst Henderson slowly but surely detaches himself from this motif's web, Corea keeps up the weaving of its thematic thread, whilst using it - enhanced with the occasional Monkish element -for sparse but by contrast highly effective accents.
The energetic summit of this session is "Joe's Bolero": Henderson's overblown two-tone-motif is a point of departure for an open voyage. Here there is bubbling activity below the surface, controlled eruptions take place, tensions are built up and released, one seems to be listening to the sounds of the music's breathing. Moreover, it is the musicians themselves who determine the end of this exciting voyage and not the common unimaginative practice of fading out. The only standard piece of this repertoire, "What's Next?" fascinates equally through its melodic logic and harmonic delicacy: ample reasons for this quartet not to rewrite it unnecessarily but to seek the expression of creative force through the improvisations instead. Here everything that can be said briefly is said. The quick "Blues For Liebestraum" has no feature in common with the traditional blues but the 12-bar form: a typical Corea composition which puts the greatest possible demands in a technical and creative sense on the players and thus underlines the superior artistry of the quartet.
Joe Henderson is a perfectionist in the best possible sense, one who in persistently seeking what is challenging demands the utmost from musicians and the repertoire. With him the results of musical encounters are never uncertain - they apparently succeed as a matter of course ...
- Karsten Mutzelfeldt (Broadcaster DLF & WDR, freelance journalist)