DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: This is FRESH AIR. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews two new trio albums by tenor saxophonists who won the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. Last year's winner, 25-year-old Chilean-born New Yorker Melissa Aldana, and Joshua Redman who took the prize in 1991. Kevin says the two share a conspicuous influence - vintage Sonny Rollins.
(SOUNDBITE OF PABLO MENARES SONG, "TIRAPIE")
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: "Tirapie" by bassist Pablo Menares. One of her few catchy originals on the CD "Melissa Aldana And The Crash Trio." Her third album is "Leader." It's her first since she won the Monk competition last year. It marks her growing confidence. Aldana's prime inspiration as a teenage tenor saxophonist was Sonny Rollins. Her albums piano-less trio format, and a couple of long solo improvisations, speak to his lingering influence. Rather than hide how closely she studied him, Aldana has some fun with the idea. Her tune "M&M" and the solo she takes on it playfully riff on some classic Rollins licks.
(SOUNDBITE OF MELISSA ALDANA SONG, "M&M")
WHITEHEAD: It can be tricky paying tribute to a grandmaster. You don't want to invite a direct comparison. Melissa Aldana heads that off by not trying to sound too much like her hero. Her tone has body, but it's a bit lighter and smoother than vintage Sonny Rollins - more alto-like in the upper register. Aldana was mentored by saxophonist Greg Osby and George Coleman and you can also hear traces of Osby's floating sense of time and Coleman's smeary blues abstractions. That's one way to transcend your key influences - mix them together along with what you've figured out for yourself.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)
WHITEHEAD: Melissa Aldana with bassist Pablo Menares, who, like her, is from Chile, and Cuban-born drummer Francisco Mela who wrote that tune. Melissa Aldana's progress got me thinking about a young tenor player I heard 24 years ago on a gig with his saxophonist, Father Dewey Redman. The youngsters solos sounded like undigested John Coltrane and I didn't hear much promise there. That didn't stop Joshua Redman from winning the Monk Competition a year later. But Sonny Rollins had been his idol before Coltrane. And a few years ago his influence came back in force when Redman began leading his own piano-less trios. His new "Trios Live" pointedly starts with a tune Rollins put a stamp on - "Mack The Night."
(SOUNDBITE OF JOSHUA REDMAN SONG, "MACK THE NIGHT")
WHITEHEAD: Joshua Redman with Greg Hutchinson on drums and Matt Penman on bass, Redman catches some of the expansive spirit and expressive range of Sony Rollins, although he has his own pliable sound. When Redman slides into what sounds like Rollins' voice, it's not for long. There's some great saxophone playing on "Trios Live" though I could do without the cover of Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean." And on one fast piece, Redmond's phrasing gets maddeningly repetitious.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)
WHITEHEAD: Repetition aside, that passage shows how Redman has digested his John Coltrane, playing fast patterns his own way. Over all though, Joshua Redman's trio, like Melissa's Aldana's, suggests Sonny Rollins' increasing influence over younger saxophonists, partly because he's still here to inspire them. That be one more reason to be grateful for and to Sonny Rollins. Mr. Rollins, thanks again for everything.
DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and Wondering Sound and is the author of "Why Jazz." Coming up, taking chronic itch as seriously as chronic pain. This is FRESH AIR.
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