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Vincent Herring Infuses Jazz With Bold Strokes And Swagger On 'Minor Swing'

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of a new album by alto saxophonist Vincent Herring, who Kevin describes as operating squarely in the jazz mainstream, the perfect setting for his talents. Last year, Herring recorded a new album that he began before he caught COVID and completed after he recovered. Kevin says Herring sounds strong throughout.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCENT HERRING'S "MINOR SWING")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Vincent Herring on "Minor Swing" by his pianist Cyrus Chestnut from Herring's aptly named "Preaching To The Choir." It's aimed at folks who like their jazz with a dollop of swing, rhythm and blues feeling, music steeped in the African American vernacular and played by a soloist with swagger. You could hear with Vincent Herring gets from fleet Charlie Parker and soaring John Coltrane, but he adds his own bold strokes. He's got great timing. His improvised phrases sting and float.

Herring plays a standard "Old Devil Moon" over a fatback beat copped from Benny Golson's tune "Killer Joe." That's Yasushi Nakamura on bass.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCENT HERRING'S "OLD DEVIL MOON")

WHITEHEAD: Vincent Herring's swagger is matched by his imposing tone on alto. He might play a hair sharp to really make his line stand out. His blaring, long tones are bright stripes painted across the face of the music.

Herring can also simmer down. On Duke Ellington's ballad "In A Sentimental Mood," he still plays busy phrases, but knows where to place them.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCENT HERRING'S "IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD")

WHITEHEAD: The rhythm trio melts away there, but they're usually assertive. On piano, Cyrus Chestnut has the right instincts about when to lay back and when to lean in behind Vincent Herring's horn. Like the leader, Chestnut plays blues that are both slick and elemental in good ways. Behind their solos, drummer Johnathan Blake adds supportive comments and tumbling triplets that roll the music on.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCENT HERRING'S "DUDLI'S DILEMMA")

WHITEHEAD: Cyrus Chestnut, working in a quote from "Work Song" by Vincent Herring's old boss Nat Adderley. The album "Preaching To The Converted" (ph) includes a fast Latin tune by another Herring employer, Cedar Walton, a couple of Herring originals, a Stevie Wonder standard and Lionel Richie's lovelorn weeper "Hello," where alto saxophone gives the melody a purifying acid bath. The best straight-ahead jazz feels timeless. Its core principles have been in place 60 years and more. But within that idiom, inspired improvisers keep making fresh personal statements over song forms, old or new. Mainstream jazz has its formulas. But for thinking players, its resources and subtleties are all but inexhaustible, good for another 60 years, easy.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCENT HERRING'S "HELLO")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." He reviewed "Preaching To The Choir" by alto saxophonist Vincent Herring. We want to congratulate Kevin on winning this year's Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award from the Jazz Journalists Association. We're proud to have you on our show, Kevin.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be bioengineer Linda Griffith, whose achievements include helping graft tissue in the shape of an ear onto the back of a mouse. She founded a lab at MIT to study gynecological diseases after she was diagnosed with endometriosis, a painful condition in which tissue from the uterine lining or tissue similar to it goes rogue and grows on other organs, causing severe pain. Her research into this tissue is likely to lead to breakthroughs in the medical use of regenerative tissue and in the treatment of other diseases. I hope you'll join us. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCENT HERRING'S "HELLO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.