Original release date: March 1991
Recorded in New York on March 16th 1991
Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Rufus Reid (bass), Al Foster (drums)
Blue Bossa, Inner Urge, Body And Soul (Take 1), Take The A Train, Round Midnight, Blues In F (In'N Out), Body And Soul (Take 2)
Sonny Rollins may have been one of the first to explore it ('Way out West') and Joshua Redman may have been the most recent to revive it ('Back East') but Joe Henderson certainly explored the pianoless saxophone trio in more depth than anyone. For six years from 1985 through to 1991 it was all that he released.
The first incarnation on the Blue Note label in 1985 ('The State of the Tenor') was a formal and arranged affair, as eminent jazz critic and producer Stanley Crouch observed:
'The idea to record Joe Henderson in this context came to me one evening when I was listening to him work the Village Vanguard with a quartet….. I was most thrilled when the pianist laid out and Henderson worked his ideas through the complete and sympathetic inspirations of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster. Then the music was really exciting.'
The Village Vanguard was booked again. Michael Cuscuna of Blue Note came in as co-producer with Stanley Crouch. Don Sickler was hired to transcribe for the three instruments a programme that included obscure Thelonious Monk ('Friday the 13th', 'Boo Boo's Birthday'), Charlie Parker ('Cheryl') and three of Joe Henderson's own compositions together with a number of standards.
The result was a master class attended by many of the jazz glitterati of the New York scene at the time that stretched to two albums. On release label founder Alfred Lion declared this as: 'One of the most important albums I have ever heard. It is definitely one of the best ever made on Blue Note.'
It shows Joe Henderson's technical brilliance and harmonic imagination to the full and it certainly shines light on Ron Carter's virtuosity. But while 'The State of the Tenor' remains one of the key jazz albums of the 80s and it remains a great listen, it can't help betraying its prearranged origins.
Two years later at the Genoa Jazz Festival 1987, the small Italian label Red Records captured Joe Henderson's trio in a further live performance (but with Charlie Hayden substituting for Ron Carter on bass). The result is another brilliant live performance, but still based mainly on the prearranged formality of the earlier 'State of the Tenor' sessions.
Finally in 1991 Red captured the trio again (this time in New York with Rufus Reid on bass). The resulting album, 'The Standard Joe', is remarkable for its spontaneity and freedom of improvisation. The formality of the earlier prearranged sessions has been stripped away.
There are long and engaging, wonderfully spontaneous and creative, takes on jazz classics such as 'Body and Soul' and 'Round About Midnight', played without any real concern that the great interpretations of the past are being stepped upon. (Coleman Hawkins kicked off the whole genre of modern tenor saxophone playing with his 1940's masterful take on 'Body and Soul'. Joe Henderson shows that there is nothing to fear in returning to this iconic starting point).
With 'Blue Bossa' he returns almost to the starting point, his first year with Blue Note when, as a twenty-six year old, he partnered trumpeter Kenny Dorham on 'Page One'.
There are new, reworked and extended versions of the key Joe Henderson compositions 'Inner Urge' and 'In 'N' Out' that reveal just how much more is possible within them.
Of the five albums produced by the three versions of Joe Henderson's pianoless trio, 'The Standard Joe' stands out for the spontaneity and the naturalness that comes from stepping back from the notion of consciously attempting to make great art. The albums produced by Miles Davis with John Coltrane - 'Cookin', 'Workin', Relaxin' - as he was finishing off his contract with Prestige before moving to CBS in the late 50s have the same quality.
Taken together, Joe Henderson's saxophone trio albums represent a remarkable exploration of the new freedom to be found in the saxophone trio approach and, of course, they reveal the remarkable saxophone technique of the great man and the genius of his harmonic improvisation.
Late career success and acknowledgment of his status as one of the greatest saxophone players in the history of jazz was to greet Joe Henderson when, largely as a result of the recordings with Red Records, he signed with Verve and produced the fine – and successful - albums 'Lush Life', 'So Near So Far', 'Double Rainbow' and 'Shades Of Jade'.
But like his earlier Blue Note classic 'In 'N' Out', 'The Standard Joe' should take its place as one of the greatest albums. In the context of the downturn of interest in the form in the lean period of the 80s, it showed that jazz had much life in it yet and it pointed to a well deserved revival in the recognition of Joe Henderson as one of the greatest and most influential pioneers of tenor sax.
(Though the CD version of a 'The Standard Joe' is now difficult to obtain, the MP3 version is available and at an attractive price.)
Star Rating ****
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