Greg Skaff Polaris (SMK JAZZ 2021)


Small wonder that, with legends Ron Carter and Albert “Tootie” Heath in tow, Greg Skaff’s Polaris is the real deal.



Greg Skaff (guitar), Ron Carter (bass), Albert “Tootie” Heath (drums)


on August 12, 2019 and March 16, 2020


as SMKJ-003 in 2021

Track listing

Side A:
Old Devil Moon
Little Waltz (duo)
Paris Eyes
Mr. R.C.
Lady Of The Lavender Mist
Little Waltz (trio)
Ill Wind

HNo mistaking, the guitarist is not lagging behind. Skaff came up in a period when many of the major-league elder statesmen were alive and kickin’. Once upon a long ago, he kickstarted his career under the wings of tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. And the contender in strings of organ groups continued his career with Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and NYC staples as Mike LeDonne and David Hazeltine. Clearly, Skaff has absorbed the indispensable lesson that focus should not be on the chord changes but instead on the right notes for the moment. The result, obviously, of an excellent melodic ear.

The above-mentioned start of the album, Old Devil Moon, gets the message across effectively. Skaff’s punchy attack and rhythmic displacements reference the famous Village Vanguard version of Sonny Rollins. Carter and Heath’s smooth but driving swing brings back to life that indelible vibe from little Very Important Places like The Five Spot and Club Bohemia in the late 1950’s, which an exclusive (often very) elderly coterie knows from experience and current jazz fans from many iconic live records. The fact that on top of Polaris’s succinct extensions of the tradition, the gatefold package includes extensive and insightful liner notes by Nate Chinen, rule rather than exception in the classic era of jazz, is a delightful bonus.

Eighty-somethings Carter and Heath together represent more than hundred and twenty years of professional jazz experience. Carter, the most prolific jazz bassist in history and innovator of the decime interval in bass playing, takes several commanding solos and beautifully rhapsodizes on the melody of Yesterdays. The rapport of the trio is sympathetic throughout the program of Polaris, which includes Carter’s Little Waltz and Skaff’s Mr. C., homage to his bassist of choice and a nifty variation on Coltrane’s Mr. P.C. Unfortunately, Skaff’s finest composition Polaris, streamlined by a thrilling progression and uplifted by bell-like chords, suffers from Heath’s unstable time, which raises the question why no one felt the need to include a faultless take.

Skaff’s resonant, robust tone alludes to both Grant Green and Kenny Burrell. Coincidentally or not, Skaff included the spicy Paris Eyes, a Larry Young tune that featured Green in the mid-sixties. Furthermore, Skaff shares Kenny Burrell’s fascination for Duke Ellington, adding to the repertory both Angelica and Lady Of The Lavender Mist, the former a flexible reading underlined by Heath’s persuasive, exotic snare rolls, the latter a poised and endearing handling of the seldom-performed melody.

Polaris climaxes with Arlen/Koehler’s Ill Wind, done all by his lone-wolf lonesome and a sublime example of Skaff’s gift to directly communicate a song to his audience. That’s no small thing and justifies the conclusion that this veteran of organ groups has stepped up to the majors.

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