Sunday, May 19, 2024


It's ’more a case of slipping into a comfy, loose-fitting garment than it is studying Lori Bell’s latest release, Recorda Me: Remembering Joe Henderson. Kicking off with the late jazz saxophone great’s composition ‘Isotope,’” Bell nimbly states the spry signature theme, and one finds oneself unexpectedly wholly immersed in a delightful exchange between the flutist and pianist Josh Nelson. She and the keyboardist weave a delicate and swinging set of variations on it. Nelson’s touch on the keys is light, deft, and swinging, surely over the subdued but percolating tempo provided by bassist David Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle. Bell is, as she has always been in her distinguished effort, a flutist with unlimited resources who brings her nuanced lines to the fabric that the others have created for her on the opening track. Her playing soars, bringing a different assortment of tonal color to her speedy bop-informed lines and the lyrical blues coloration she often provides in her slower passages.

The album continues in this pleasurable vein, a sagacious offering of deceptively easy grooves and meters. The Lori Bell Quartet has an odd combination in that the allure in this album’s worth of interpretation of Joe Henderson’s compositions lies in the kind of classical precision, yet full of the intricate twists and shifting chord voices that elevate the improvisational acumen of all the players. It’s apparent halfway through the disc that this does not come across as a routine “tribute” to a departed jazz giant as well as projects that—despite good intentions—too frequently seem lifeless or at least absent the grace and luxuriant finesse of whomever the tribute is geared toward.

Bell avoids stifling perfectionism that mars such efforts and lets Joe Henderson’s compositions breathe in a way; the ensemble allows itself to be playful with the music in front of them, undulating with a steady yet continually evolving succession of rhythmic invention. Henderson’s saxophone playing was rich and expressive, versatile and harmonically complex. He had at his disposal an armada of voices that would be brackish and groove, smooth and lyrical, excitingly precise as his compositions required. Deeply rooted in the blues, Henderson’s songwriting used Latin and Afro references, elements creating an insistent and flexible rhythmic basis that made his inventive use of unexpected chord progressions more provocative. His music was one of dynamic but unassuming brilliance.

Recorda Me: Remembering Joe Henderson is stellar work, with the collective readings of Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” “A Shade of Jade,” and the triumph workout on the title track, with its ascending and descending themes and shifting melody contrasts. It is a wondrous effort toward a breathtaking whole: Bell negotiates Henderson’s galloping changes with quicksilver improvisations over Nelson’s sympathetic chordings and counter melodies. His solo outing here in turn is a keen master class in uncluttered elegance. A shout-out as well for the very fine work by drummer Schnelle and bassist Robaire, a rhythm section pursuing a dialogue of their own as meters swerve and sway and swing. Recorda Me does exactly what Bell and her superlative quartet intended, reintroducing listeners to a resourceful and exciting musician and composer. This music moves fast on the uptake, is light on its feet, and is memorable and compelling, rendered with a fervent wholeheartedness by a superlative ensemble.