Out There

Sharp-dressed men

Scotch and Milk
Cecil Payne

Deemus
Barrett Deems
Delmark Records

I have this theory: The worse a musician dresses, the more I like him. When a man goes on stage in a plaid jacket with lapels the size of Dumbo's ears and striped pants, you know he follows no one else's style.

Cecil Payne looks pretty bad on his album cover--crooked sunglasses, cowboy hat, and some kind of polo-shirt-over-dress-shirt combo. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but this is one fine jazz album. Payne plays the baritone sax smoothly, and his swinging, sensual sound is sometimes preferable to the harder-edged sound of the late master Gerry Mulligan. Mulligan could wear out the baritone's deep, honking sound, but Payne's style owes something to Lester Young as well as Charlie Parker; it's enough to make you forget you're listening to the baritone sax.

It helps, too, that Payne shares this album with two standout tenors, Eric Alexander and Lin Halliday, as well as Detroit trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, one of the great unheralded horn men. He plays straight-ahead bop and avant-garde adventures, always with great smarts and a quickly identifiable sound.

It is Payne, however, who makes the album work so well. Check out the ballad "If I Should Lose You," where he lets the melody do most of his work, playing without much ornament or even improvisation on a duet that alternates in rhythm between a slow swing and a ballad. Payne's pillow-soft sound kisses every note sweetly. Don't think for a moment, though, that he can't bop hard. On "Et Vous Too, Cecil?"--with the horn section egging him on--Payne takes chorus after chorus of rip-roaring, up-tempo solo without ever losing his soft touch.

Barrett Deems, meanwhile, is 84 years old and sports a wild toupee, but he still dresses better than Payne. His contributions to jazz have been tremendous. Deems, hailed by his onetime bandmate Louis Armstrong as the world's fastest drummer, is still gigging regularly in Chicago. His 1978 recording, Deemus, just reissued by Delmark, unfortunately, is not the best showcase for his considerable skills.

Deems keeps a rock-steady beat and takes his usual ferocious solos, but this session cries out for more powerful horns. Chuck Hedges on clarinet gets the largest amount of solo space, followed by Don DeMichael on vibes. The band doesn't seem to have the weight to match Deems' powerful drumming, and the effort sometimes sounds like something you might hear in a bar on Bourbon Street.

--Jonathan Eig

 
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