Vincent Herring Night and Day (Smoke Sessions)

I think of pinball when listening to Vincent Herring. Long known as one of the most fluid saxophonists around, he has earned his sizable rep on the kind of agility needed to flit from idea to idea. Like a player controlling the flippers, he calls the shots when launching a solo’s trajectory. Like the ball itself, he revels in the unpredictable bounce created when it comes time to rack up points by careening through the bumpers.

Night and Day boasts several such moments. “The Adventures of Hyun Joo Lee” is a hard bop readymade Herring penned for a determined student, and his romp is defined by a controlled mania. It’s one of the Herring’s signature elements. A dedication to fierce interplay is found in all these tunes – a quality no doubt honed on the bandstand. A previous disc, The Uptown Shuffle, was a live date that celebrated jazz’s physicality. This follow-up extends that, bringing the fire into the studio with a quintet that’s keen on the animated sense of play the saxophonist so casually forges.

A blues lingo primes the pump. Herring is a melody man – he concocts all sorts of little tunes within his solos – but he likes his bedrock vibe to be steeped in the mainstream vernacular that fueled his forebears, like Cannonball Adderley. A case could be made that the blues is leaning towards a curtain call in jazz these days, so it’s refreshing when Herring, now in his early 50s, speaks its essence with such authority. With trumpeter Jeremy Pelt egging him on and pianist Mike LeDonne throwing an arm around his shoulder, the conversations are offhand yet hardy. No compositional ground is being broken here – a stylistic myopia is one of the music’s foibles. But the band’s invention is obvious. It consistently conspires to show us how grace and swag can successfully coexist.

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