In a world obsessed with youth and all its accouterments, alto saxophonist Herb Geller stands as a splendid object lesson. The man is 66 and he pretty much looks his age, but he continues to play with the fire and poise that marked his art when he was in his 20s.
Working with a stellar back-up trio, Geller--an L.A. native who has resided in Hamburg, Germany, since the mid-1960s--delivered an impassioned first set on Friday at the Jazz Bakery.
His sound was like a mango: juicy and moist at the edges but with a hard pit at the center. His lines, emanating from a be-bop base, were mixed: Some careened up and down, some had a hard rhythmic chop, some were serene and glassy.
While there were wonderful moments in such numbers as the speedy "Birdland Stomp" and the sashaying "Stars in My Eyes," Geller's tour de force was "Come Rain or Come Shine." He took the Harold Arlen standard at a medium clip and squeezed blues essence out of it as if it were a wet towel.
Ruth Price added color to the set when she sang the lyrics she wrote to Al Cohn's zesty "High on You," then delivered "The Underdog," creating emotion as she went from high to deep notes.
Tom Ranier (piano), John Leitham (bass) and Paul Kreibach (drums) gave Geller easy-chair support, and Ranier dropped in several solos that epitomized grace and invention.