The Jazz Bakery resembles a Jazz Hall of Fame this month, with Jon Hendricks checking in last week, Benny Golson holding forth this week and Mose Allison due next week. Each of these veteran contributors to the jazz songbook has stamped his own distinctive presence onto the scene — which for Golson meant an evening of superb tenor sax and an inexhaustible pool of anecdotes, immaculately presented.
Nattily dressed, his polished horn gleaming in the lights, Golson at 76 is an authentic ambassador from another era in show business. It’s worth catching Golson’s act just to hear his introductions, rich with vignettes from a vanished past, extravagantly complementing his fine pickup trio, delivered in a urbane, resonant voice. On Wednesday night, he roamed from reminiscences of New York City and his native Philadelphia in the middle of the 20th century to a time not long ago when he was invited by Steven Spielberg to play a speaking role in the film “The Terminal.”
Golson still has plenty to say on the tenor sax, and he says it differently than he might have decades ago. When Golson took on his indestructible “Whisper Not” at the Bakery, it became strikingly clear how much his playing has evolved since he recorded the song with a big band back in 1957. His tone is duskier, mellower, the fast, asymmetrical flurries reaching more toward the outside.
Golson could make straight-ahead, old-line bop like “Pierre’s Moment” sound fresh and swinging — and even though the tune of “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” seemed to place the loosely swinging rhythm in a straitjacket, Golson’s solo was delightfully free of all cliches. And “Terminal One” became an unusual tone poem for drums, as Roy McCurdy was asked to bash away solo at the beginning and end of the number in order to simulate the bustle and noise of an airport.
Following a mercifully brief period of adjustment to the acoustics, McCurdy, pianist Bill Cunliffe and bassist Bob Magnusson provided Golson with solid, graceful backing.