In many ways, this impeccably performed collection of material stands as a tribute to the late Harold Battiste, a saxophonist, composer and educator and a man with a vision of the importance of documenting music as a way of keeping it alive for a next generation. He accomplished that goal in numerous ways, including assembling the compositions that were written and performed by members of the American Jazz Quintet, in what is renowned as “The Silverbook.”
As is fitting, the bulk of the material on The Silverbook Project Vol. 1 comes from Battiste’s pen. To those familiar with Battiste, the founder of the AFO (All For One) label, they sound like Harold. He was a man of great warmth and serenity, qualities that can be heard in every note and sway of “Beautiful Old Ladies.” Pianist Jesse McBride, who produced the album and is Artist-in-Residence at the Center, brings the gentleness of his mentor to this wonderful song.
The orchestra boasts some 18 members and holds a galaxy of thoughtfully and technically rich musicians. It might be difficult for some people to imagine how totally progressive trumpeter Clyde Kerr, Jr.’s “Leo’s Lady” sounds even though it was written decades ago. It and Ellis Marsalis’ intriguing “Nostalgic Impressions” provide documentation of just how much modern jazz was being investigated by Battiste’s AFO team, which included the great drummer Ed Blackwell, bassist Richard Payne and clarinetist Alvin Batiste and others.
The legendary Jelly Roll Morton coined the term the Latin tinge to describe the rhythmic element that often comes into play in New Orleans music. The last two numbers, both by Battiste, highlight its place and importance in jazz.
Super solos—too numerous to identify individually—and beautifully, unflawed ensemble work make The Silverbook Project Vol. 1 a listening pleasure. Equally important, it would have made Harold Battiste smile.