Greg Abate quietly evolves his vigorous sound.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
The musical language of bebop is more than 60 years old, but in the hands of saxophonist Greg Abate, it sounds as urgent and fresh as a news flash.
While he’s not a big-name player, Abate is a major talent who has recorded with many of jazz’s most prodigious artists. Known for his rambunctious, hurtling solos, he’s a commanding improviser with a deep feel for the blues.
The Rhode Island resident returns to the area on Saturday for a performance at the Jazz & Blues Company on Saturday. For a guy from New England who has never lived closer to Monterey than Los Angeles, Abate has made some deep connections on the Peninsula.
He recorded his forthcoming album for the revived Black-Hawk label at Monterey Live in February, backed by a rhythm section featuring Los Angeles pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Akira Tana.
Saturday, he’s joined by the ace L.A. rhythm section tandem of bassist Luther Hughes and drummer Paul Kreibich, and London-based pianist John Donaldson.Abate’s Monterey album was overseen by legendary jazz educator and producer Dr. Herb Wong, who’s been a supporter of Abate since he heard him in mid-1980s as a tenor saxophonist in Artie Shaw’s reconstituted big band. It was at the Black and White Ball, the huge annual fundraiser for the San Francisco Symphony, and Abate made a vivid impression on the audience, including the famous columnist Herb Caen.
“Greg was playing the Artie Shaw book, and when he soloed, he was something else,” Wong recalls. “He caught the attention of everyone. Herb Caen came up to me and said, ‘Who the hell is that guy? He’s incredible.’ ”
By that time, Abate had already paid dues in L.A. with a two-year stint with Ray Charles in the 1970s. After leaving Shaw’s orchestra, Abate started gaining attention as a leader in his own right with his debut , a scorching live session recorded at Birdland with a stellar New York rhythm section.
He followed up with a series of hard-charging albums featuring world-class collaborators, including pianists Hilton Ruiz and Kenny Barron, Brazilian trumpeter Claudio Roditi and drummer Ben Riley. An accomplished composer, he alternates among standards, bebop classics and well-conceived originals tunes, and among horns, including alto, tenor, soprano and flute.
“Alto is really my primary horn,” Abate says. “I just fell in love with Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt, Jackie McLean and Sonny Red. On tenor, I listened to Dexter Gordon and Wayne Shorter.”
Abate possesses a distinct voice on each instrument, and has a knack for matching tunes with axes. No matter what he’s playing, however, Abate brings a sense of passionate intensity to everything. He knows that living in Rhode Island isn’t the path to jazz fame, but he’s well established on the international circuit. After the Carmel gig, Abate heads to the U.K. for a string of 21 one-nighters.
“I’m not a household name, but a lot of jazz guys aren’t,” says Abate, who has a particular hope for the show. “I know Clint Eastwood lives in the area, and I’d love to invite him to hear the set. We share the same birthday, May 31.”
The Greg Abate Quartet plays 7:30pm Saturday, June 21, at the Jazz & Blues Company on San Carlos and Eighth, Carmel. $40. 624-6432, www.thejazzandbluescompany.com