Picks and Pans Review: Mood Indigo

updated 02/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Frank Morgan

Alto saxophonist Frank Morgan is a rarity among jazz musicians: a virtuoso who is not ashamed to tug at the heartstrings of his listeners. Like his boyhood idol and mentor, Charlie Parker, Morgan is capable of dazzling displays of musical finesse. But he is at his best when he launches into a familiar melody and caresses the notes with a tenderness that will make even the most jaded soul consider a surreptitious swoon or two.

Mood Indigo features Morgan in a variety of small ensemble groupings, playing ballads and blues. On the title track he coaxes some inspired playing from trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who uses an old-fashioned plunger mute favored by New Orleans street musicians to give a raw-edged feel to the Ellington standard. And during a medium-tempo rendition of John Coltrane's "Bessie's Blues," Morgan and Marsalis display an almost telepathic rapport as they engage in a good-natured cutting contest.

Pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Al Foster provide Morgan with workmanlike rhythmic support during much of the session. But the mood is transcendent when George Cables is at the keyboard for a duet version of Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" and a fragmentary lullaby, which bookend the album. With Cables's light-fingered accompaniment, Morgan approaches the tunes much like a torch singer. His impeccable phrasing and the emotional vulnerability that is evident despite his controlled tone call to mind Frank Sinatra at his ballading best.

If you have never listened seriously to jazz before, Mood Indigo may make you a convert. And if you are already an aficionado, you are in for a breathtaking treat. (Antilles)

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