Tony Quarrington,
Deep River
(Cordova Bay, 2001)

Though none are household names, Tony Quarrington plays with a solid group of pros on his latest album. Reed man Pat LaBarbera is probably the best known because of his work with Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones. He has a lot of space here, splitting time with Quarrington's electric guitar on most tracks. Neil Swainson (bass) and Greg Pilo (drums) complete the quartet heard on most tracks. Hammond organist Doug Riley is a fine addition when Quarrington is after a funkier mood as on the title track, "Deep River," a very old song that's given the feeling of a lightly swinging spiritual.

The music is mainstream jazz. Quarrington's influences are varied. Being a Canadian, he's absorbed the styles of jazzmen Lenny Breau and Ed Bickert, but has been known to play folk and rock as well. His playing is unusually tuneful at all tempos. His tone and rhythmic sense are firm and he sounds like he's playing from the heart.

LaBarbera was heavily influenced by Coltrane, but has a softer tone and stronger lyrical talent than many of Trane's other disciples. Buddy Rich was a tyrannical and intimidating perfectionist, so it says a lot about LaBarbera's skill and dependability that he got more solo time with the Rich big band than anyone else. Even more than Buddy if you throw out those 15-minute drummer endurance-contests.

Jimmy Smith comes to mind when Doug Riley jumps in. That's definitely a compliment.

Seven of the tunes are Quarrington originals. All work well as a frame for solos and most are a cut above average in melodic interest. The slower originals are especially attractive. "Presto Pronto," with its nod to Ornette, is fun, but one or two of the other up-tempo tunes sound a little perfunctory until you get to the solos. In the past several years many up-tempo bebop originals sound that way to me. Few stick in the memory or are covered by other artists. That no doubt debatable statement is either a sign that bebop is running out of steam or I am.

Be that as it may, there's enough steam left to make Deep River an attractive and entertaining outing. The musicianship is high, the solos are strong and the mood is friendly. Mainstream jazz fans won't go wrong.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 16 November 2002

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