DAVE DAVIES, host: This is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross. The pianist on the first recording that saxophonist James Moody ever played on, in 1947, was Hank Jones. That was on a date with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Moody and Jones have crossed paths a few times since, working with Dizzy or Lionel Hampton, or playing Tadd Dameron's music with vibeist Milt Jackson. Now Moody and Jones have a new record together. But jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the saxophonist steals the show.

(Soundbite of music)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Tenor saxophonist James Moody, sounding suave as Stan Getz on "Con Alma." Moody is a terrific saxophonist, a distinctive flutist and sometimes a whimsical singer. But for some reason, his considerable charms don't always translate to records. Happily, a new album is an exception. His warmth and grace come through in improvised lines that unfold like a logical argument. Except, they swing more.

(Soundbite of "Our Delight")

WHITEHEAD: Tadd Dameron's tune "Our Delight." That's also the name of the album James Moody co-leads with Hank Jones, though it's obviously Moody's show. Bassist Todd Coolman and Drummer Adam Nussbaum are Moody regulars. The repertoire is familiar but strong. Half the tunes are by bebop composers Tadd Dameron and Dizzy Gillespie, Moody's boss off and on for decades. The album was recorded a couple of years ago when James Moody was 81 and Hank Jones was 87. You can hear them skip a couple of notes in a fast phrase once in a while, but they're not coasting. Hank Jones on piano.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: When people go on about the golden virtues of jazz, elegance of expression, a burnished and beautiful tone, an improviser's accumulated wisdom applied to blues and ballads and bop, this is the sort of music they're talking about. The only misstep on the album is comical. Jimmy Heath's salute to James Moody is gamely sung by Italy's Roberta Gambarini.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ROBERTA GAMBARINI (Italian Singer): (Singing) Brings much joy and beauty, that's Moody. The style in his art make you smile from the start, then brightens up your day when he sings and when he plays.

WHITEHEAD: The better changeups are two numbers where Moody trades in saxophone for flute, an instrument he helped to established in jazz. His sound is unabashedly wispy. But he makes that breathiness very expressive, and he can really move. His tone is oddly like a speaking voice, too.

(Soundbite of song "Old Folks")

WHITEHEAD: The tune is 1938's "Old Folks," whose lyric describes a veteran campaigner casting his mind back on long-gone glory days. James Moody's playing makes a mockery of that subtext. Lately, jazz has been favored with a number of musicians in their 80s and even 90s who can still play the game. But then, improvising for a living, solving musical problems every day, is a good way to keep the mind and the fingers sharp.

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead reviewed "Our Delight" by James Moody and Hank Jones on the IPO label.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Coming up, actor Anthony Anderson from "Law & Order" tells us about learning to play gang bangers and tough cops. This is Fresh Air.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.