JAZZ REVIEW : Unfamiliar Band Doesn’t Slow an Inspired Fortune


Saxophonist Sonny Fortune is the kind of player who kicks it up a notch in live performances. Though his latest releases for the Blue Note label are both solid efforts, the alto saxophonist’s appearance Thursday at the Jazz Bakery reached for even more lofty peaks in its improvisational spirit and physical intensity.

That the McCoy Tyner-Miles Davis veteran achieved this level in the company of musicians largely unfamiliar with his work made the long, single set even more impressive. While Fortune had played with drummer Sherman Ferguson in their hometown of Philadelphia when both were in high school (though rarely since), it was his first time working with bassist John Heard and pianist William Henderson.

Still, the program of Fortune originals and tunes from Thelonious Monk, Kenny Barron, Billy Strayhorn and Wayne Shorter showed none of the hesitancy that first encounters often contain. Instead, Fortune showered his work with searing runs, gritty high-register cries and a prevailing lyrical sense that integrated his solos into a seamless whole. The prevailing mood was one of abandon rather than restraint.


While played with some reserve, Fortune’s tone on flute was equally virile, sounded with plenty of breath and overtones. He gave Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” the same lyrical feel as heard on his alto solos, though he played with a cool that contrasted nicely with the heat he generated from his horn.

Pianist Henderson seemed particularly spurred by Fortune’s most ambitious solos, jumping into “Footprints” with plenty of chordal splash and dissonant phrases after the saxophonist’s aggressive display. Heard provided solid timekeeping, though his play did not flow as naturally as the leaders’. Ferguson was the most inventive member of the section, fanning a polyrhythmic firestorm behind Fortune’s hot-house ways.

This opening-night performance was the kind that elicited cheers and calls of affirmation from the crowd during Fortune’s more dynamic moments and strong, continuing applause at their close.

* Sonny Fortune appears tonight at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City, 8:30 p.m. $20. (310) 271-9039.