Saxophonist Jorge Nila’s sophomore album is a tribute to names that even those outside of jazz already know–Coltrane, Shorter, Wonder, and several others. “Tenor Time” treats listeners to songs that are crafted around the saxophone. The album’s full title is “Tenor Time/Tribute to the Tenor Masters.” At times, the organ comes to the forefront as well. Whether Nila was attempting to pay homage to previous tenor sax players or not, the album has its own vibe that recalls the classic age of jazz. With an assembled group of veteran musicians, Nila makes each song sound new and inspired. There are bluesy turns that create a vibe of jazz songs and the clubs they were played in during decades past. “Tenor Time” is an accomplishment. The recording is comprised of nine songs, but “Soul Station,” “Rocket Love” and “On A Misty Night” stand out.
A bit about Jorge Nila
Nila’s career began in 1965. Upon hearing “Tenor Time” it might surprise some audiences to learn that Nila is from Omaha, Nebraska and began learning the tenets of jazz there and playing in local clubs. It was while living in Omaha that Nila became acquainted with another contemporary jazz great, Dave Stryker. In the mid-1970s, Nila and Stryker played together in Omaha until Nila moved to New York City in 1978.
According to Nila, in 1978, there was a ” huge renaissance in modern jazz happening.” Nila studied saxophone with George Coleman, and eventually met other great musicians and developed peers who turned out to be accomplished musicians. During his career, Nila worked with Eddie Palmieri, Jack McDuff, Paul Simon, the B-52’s and other famous performers. In 1990, Nila returned to Omaha where he continues to keep the traditions of jazz alive. To do this, he teaches and leads a music program at El Museo Latino in South Omaha. Still, Nila finds time to record with various artists in Colorado, Kansas City and the Midwest. In 2003, Nila released his first album, “The Way I Feel” on Strikezone Records.
On “Tenor Time,” Nila is joined by Dave Stryker on guitar, Mitch Towne on organ and Dana Murray on drums. It should be noted that the album was engineered, mixed and mastered at Dana Murray Studios by Dana Murray – – the same who plays drums on the recording. Further, the album was produced by Stryker.
“Soul Station” by Jorge Nila
If one thing stands out on the album is the way Nila crafts a bluesy, soulful sound. There are several laudable aspects to his work, but it is when the songs sound as if they are being played in a club 50 or so years ago that Nila really shines. That is exactly what happens with this danceable, bluesy track that is a tribute to saxophonist Hank Mobley, who died in 1986.
There is such a cool vibe on this song. It is worth listening to over and over. The way the organ, drums and saxophone create the song’s signature several note motif is a must-hear. The piece immediately demonstrates to listeners that Nila has accomplished what he set out to do based on the title of the album.
“Rocket Love” by Jorge Nila
This nearly hypnotic track is a surprisingly successful instrumental version of Stevie Wonder’s Wonder’s 1995 original. The saxophone gets showcased during the characteristic fast tempo portions. There are long notes from the brass instrument as well during the slower sections. A gentle crush of drums and organ make the piece intense even during the relatively slower parts. Eventually the guitar and saxophone begin to play coordinating lines, and while listeners are still waiting for the segments marked by what sounds like a triplet at the beginning, the saxophone and guitar continue their exchange, and the end comes far too soon.
“On a Misty Night” by Jorge Nila
A wistful opening comprised by organ, guitar and soft drums set the stage for the song’s mood. In a few measures, the saxophone comes in and creates long, brassy lines and shorter, punchier passages that seem like mini-showcases. Also nice here are the guitar nuances. Each note is distinct and adds to the dynamics of the song.
There is a swinging feel that starts right after the first wistful note and carries through to the end. That wistful motif returns, too, toward the end. The mid-tempo rhythm is engaging and this is another successful tribute track for Nila and his ensemble.
Nila has undertaken an ambitious project. And while he might have included more legendary players to pay homage to, what he has presented here is engaging and fulfilling for jazz listeners at all levels.
“Tenor Time” will be available Jan. 4, 2019.