Zoot Sims is recognized as one of the great masters of the tenor saxophone. As a member of the Benny Goodman Big Band and Woody Herman's Second Herd, Sims developed his "swing style" and slowly created a significant voice in the close-knit jazz community. Later, Sims was energized when Bebop began to emerge - it changed the face of jazz and gave instrumentalists a new perspective on energy and motion. Like many of his contemporaries, Sims explored bop and incorporated parts of this style into his musical voice. It is this unique symbiotic style that we hear portrayed so beautifully on Zoot Sims in Copenhagen.
As Sims' recordings grew larger in number, so did his following. He distinguished himself from many of his colleagues by using his light, smooth sound to create flowing, energetic solos that brought life to everything he touched. Interestingly, Sims' musical style is often compared to Stan Getz and Wardell Gray. Like Sims, both saxophonists continued to play swing in large groups, later finding great inspiration performing in more intimate settings.
Zoot Sims in Copenhagen is both intimate in venue and musically vexing. Thus, it begins with a very interesting harmonic progression from the rhythm section. The introduction of Too Close For Comfort finds bassist Neils Pedersen playing rhythm changes (I VI II V I) in the key of G, while pianist Kenny Drew plays octave Ds with his right hand. This listener expected Pedersen to repeat the same pattern in the second half of the introduction. However, instead of resolving the pattern on the G, he resolves on the B and keeps playing rhythm changes using the third of each chord as the bass note rather than the root! This capricious style makes the listener believe the tonal center is changing when it is actually staying in the same key! Ingenious. The seemingly complex introduction is performed with consummate ease by the Kenny Drew Trio. Later, Sims makes his entry and lifts the energy level of his solo, never looking back. Very cool. The intensity and melodic inspiration are maintained by the players throughout all eleven tracks.
The solo styling of Zoot Sims brought to mind the raison d'être for improvising. When musicians first started improvising, they took the melody and added ornamentation, trills and changed the tune slightly, but the melody of the song was paramount. Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins were two of the first musicians to base their improvisation on chord changes rather than melody. Sims followed closely in their tradition. A good example of this comes via In A Mellow Tone. This little slice of Ellington magic opens with Sims beginning the melody and the rhythm following close behind. He is careful to articulate the melody in its proper form so that every imagined word of the song is clear, yet stamped with Zoot's unmistakable style.
Collectively, the playing on this album is wonderful. After listening many times, I never tired of Sims' sound, his energy, or the great contribution of the Kenny Drew Trio. As a recording, tonal quality is superb, however, the soundstage is, at times, slightly muffled - a quality I have found in other recorded examples from this company (including Quincy Jones' Smackwater Jack). This minor discrepancy did nothing to hinder my total enjoyment of the presentation. Most importantly though, Sims and friends communicate their musical feelings superbly well. Highly recommended.
Copyright©Steven Dubinsky, 1998