(Big Joe Burrell Records, CD)
Big Joe Burrell -- Vermont's patron saint of the saxophone -- lived to play music. With his passing last February, the local community lost a gracious and intuitive artist whose sheer musicality was as big as the man himself. I'm Just a Lucky So and So... will most certainly be his last CD, but in true Joe fashion, he ends on a beautiful note. Although Burrell died a mere month from the disc's originally scheduled release date, listening to the music, it feels like he's still right here.
The album features some of Joe's favorite jazz standards, tunes he'd been playing for years. Backed by an elegant rhythm section -- James Harvey on piano, John Rivers on acoustic bass and drummer Gabe Jarrett -- Burrell delivers some of the most heartfelt playing of his long career. It's hard to believe he was pushing 80 years old when the material was recorded; his spirit, melodiousness and confidence are immediately apparent.
The album kicks off with the title track, a sprightly blues number featuring Joe's gorgeously rugged voice and some feisty Hammond B-3 work by producer/engineer Chuck Eller, a long-time Joe pal. Although the tune is a Duke Ellington classic, the lyrics read like a big-hearted account of Burrell's own life. "When I walk down the street / seems everyone I meet / gives me a friendly hello./ I guess I'm just a lucky so and so."
The instrumental "Blue and Sentimental" finds Burrell in a romantic mood, his delicate phrasing dipping nimbly around the refined accompaniment. Harvey deserves special recognition for his astute and dynamic piano work. With graceful restraint, he intuits Joe's melodies and rhythmic inflections like only the greatest sidemen can.
Unknown Blues Band axeman Paul Asbell takes a nimble turn on the electric guitar on "Willow Weep for Me," but it's Joe's masterful way with the melody that truly stands out. His seductive trills and smoky ostinato pull you in from the start. The amazing thing is that Joe delivered this level of musicianship every time he picked up his horn.
"Doggin' Around" finds Burrell trading licks with Harvey in an up-tempo cut that really swings. Harvey's solo zips along with vigor, Rivers takes a classy bass solo, then, bam! -- Joe comes right back with a tasty little horn line.
Beats having to say goodbye.