Benny Golson Quartet at Jazz Standard 1/26/18 (by Dan Lehner)

PERSONNEL: Benny Golson (tenor saxophone), Buster Williams (bass), Emmet Cohen (piano), Alvester Garnett (drums)

SET LIST: Confirmation (Parker), Whisper Not (Golson), Stablemates (Golson), Surrey With the Fringe on Top (MacRae/Anthony), Now’s The Time (Parker)

HIGHLIGHTS: Golson deftly mined an abundance micro and macro information over one of his most beloved contributions to post-bop, ‘Stablemates,’ both digging into specifics and reveling in the shape of the tune overall.

“He asked if I had any tunes. Man, all I had was tunes!” Benny Golson held court to a packed Friday night audience on quite a few personal topics, but it was his recollection of handing a fateful tune to fellow Philly up-and-comer John Coltrane for Miles Davis’s band that felt the most crucial to Golson’s character arc. That knotty, hourglass-shaped tune “Stablemates is one of a few touchstone jazz compositions from the post-Parker bop era.

Golson is also an underrated voice in the tenor saxophone, and his smokey tone is darker than ever as he approaches his 90’s. Everything he plays has the authoritative seal of elder statesman craftsmanship. The solo on “Whisper Not” was full of the same wistful curvatures of the composition itself, whipping up little aerials that gracefully swooped down into his warm low registers. “Stablemates” gave a master class in how the elders handle quick changes. On Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” Golson seemed to reference the saxophone giants that preceded both Bird and himself.

Golson noted that his rhythmic section was younger than him. While true, the age range represented was actually at least three or even four generations apart. Buster Williams is 75, Alvester Garnett is 47 and Emmet Cohen is 27. They played together in marvelous fashion, and Golson even gave them their own trio feature on the “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” where they bounced the innocent melody around different keys. It was a potent and quirky rendition seemingly spun out of thin air.

Williams, also sharp and spry as ever in his elder years, was a wizard of tune playing, switching on a dime between pretty melodies, verbose pluckings and vocalistic groaning. Garnett’s solos were full of emphatic and clear rhythmic melodies with occasional inserts of funky polyrhythms. Cohen, described by Golson endearingly as “young and crazy” exploded many of the quartets moments in spectrums of weird and splendrous color, making use of 6/8 Bach-like inventions and changes-defying chromatically-upward moving figures to splash youthful energy into the performance. The obviously proud Golson beamed like a father figure from his modest throne.

by Dan Lehner