Last year, three decades after making his first recordings, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson became a commercial success. The vehicle was Lush Life (Verve), where his assertive playing was enhanced by a rich and unified program of Billy Strayhorn compositions and formats that varied from quintet to a cappella. Henderson’s follow-up. So Near. So Far (Verve), is an even more successful concept effort. “Musings for Miles" is the theme, which receives a subtle twist by giving the saxophonist and a trio of electric-era Miles Davis sidemen a program of acoustic-era Miles Davis music. Bassist Dave Holland and drummer Al Foster form an impeccable rhythm section, and John Scofield’s guitar adds steel and spring. Henderson himself delivers one of his leanest performances, a fitting homage. Producers
Richard Seidel and Don Sickler made excellent choices from the Davis repertoire, with extra kudos to arranger Sickler for adding structure to “Miles Ahead” and “Flamenco Sketches” without distorting the evanescence of the originals.
A worthy complement to So Near is another sax/guitar blend. Bittersweet (Sunnyside), although Glenn Wilson plays baritone sax and is heard in duet with guitarist Rory Stuart. They converse eloquently in a program containing one tune Miles Davis recorded (“Eighty-One”), two derived from Davis staples (“Reflections" and “Autumn Left” are based on “So What” and “Autumn Leaves,” respectively), and others written by Davis associates. Wilson’s multitracked baritone on “You Know 1 Care" makes a different allusion— to Joe Henderson, who introduced the ballad on his 1964 classic. Inner Urge (Blue Note). —B.B.
Charles M. Young is the executive editor of Musician magazine.
Boh Blumenthal is a jazz critic for The Boston Globe and CD Review.