Red Holloway

July 8, 2009

Go Red Go!
Delmark DE 585

Eventually and conclusively class wins out. Never a top-ranked saxophonist at any point during his more than 60-year-career, tenor and alto man Red Holloway is still able to turn out first-class CDs without compromising his integrity. Consistency and professionalism are his watchwords. Take as evidence this disc recorded last year with a Chicago organ combo, when Holloway was a mere 82.

A Chicago native who has long lived in Los Angles, Holloway epitomizes the musician as workhorse. Possessed of a gritty tone and an unerring rhythmic sense, he has gigged with almost everyone in music or showbiz world from blues pianist Roosevelt Sykes to rock-blues star John Mayall; and from vocalist Joe Williams to fellow saxophonist Sonny Stitt. Although he was a studio player, led night-club house bands and backed vocal groups, in the jazz world he’s probably best-known for his stint with organist Brother Jack McDuff alongside George Benson.

Swing, funk and tradition characterize Holloway’s style and this date, with tempos that rarely rise above moderato, moves along so well because he’s seconded by a band of veterans who long ago internalized the vernacular jazz and blues tradition. An irrefutable argument against retirement, all of Holloway’s Chicago sidemen are long past being “carded” at night clubs, and a couple are likely to be quite interested in seniors’ discounts.

Baby of the band is guitarist Henry Johnson, 55, who worked with vocalist, Donny Hathaway, pianist Ramsey Lewis and McDuff, as well as Williams, when Holloway was also in the band. Organist Chris Foreman – unfortunately almost unknown outside of Chicago – is another notable polymath, who has backed bluesman Albert Collins and funk saxophonist Hank Crawford, and who works with drummer Greg Rockingham in the aptly named Deep Blue Organ Trio. Replacing Johnson on two numbers is guitarist George Freeman, saxophonist Von’s “baby brother” in his seventies. He’s another individualist stylist whose sharp tone and punctuated runs have allowed him to work with everyone from mainstream jazzers to greasy organ combos.

Surprising too is the hoary repertoire which the combo still manages to enliven. And that’s in spite of “Bag’s Groove”, “St Thomas” Jobim’s Wave plus “Stardust” and “Deep Purple” etc. all taken in standard head-variation-head fashion. Yet while the arrangement and song choice may be fungible with many similar CDs, never are the tunes approached with anything less than full commitment.

For instance Holloway’s alto saxophone workout on “Stardust” and his tenor saxophone caressing of “Deep Purple” never descend into the lachrymose. With Johnson’s artful picking and Foreman’s cushioning cadenzas chugging alongside, Holloway wrings every atom of emotion out of the ballads, believing in the rightness and proper placement of every note ands phrase he plays. Elsewhere he adds some swagger to “Wave”, transforming the nightclub staple into something more transcendent.

As for the speedier tunes, “I Like It Funky” benefits from fleet finger-style chromatic runs from Freeman and constant blues-drenched intermezzos from Foreman. Clutching every phrase, the organist’s glissandi swell as he pumps out chorus after chorus to emphasize connections among the players.

The combo completes the CD with “Keep Your Hand Off Her”, a tune which is built on splashing and skittering jump organ tempos. It features Holloway singing the lyrics and the band answering in chorus. Taken at a clip that suggests early rock and R&B, the piece was written by Sykes, Holloway’s first name employer at the beginning of his career. The sum of all he has learned and expressed since that time, Go Red Go proves that Holloway is still a vital musician.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Love Walked In 2. I Like It Funky* 3. Go Red Go 4. Deep Purple 5. St. Thomas 6. Stardust 7. Bags’ Groove 8. Wave 9. Keep Your Hands Off Her*

Personnel: Red Holloway (alto and tenor saxophone); Henry Johnson or George Freeman* (guitar); Chris Foreman (organ) and Greg Rockingham (drums)