Featured Artist: Bruce Bruce Swaim Quartet CD Title: Lucky Strikes Year: 2009 Record Label: Bruce Swaim Style: Straight-Ahead / Classic Musicians: Bruce Swaim, tenor saxophone; Jay Cooley, piano; Paul Langosch, bass; Dominic Smith, drums Review:
Bruce Swaim is another jazz artist who would be better known if he lived and performed in New York. An accomplished tenor saxophonist who has lived in the Washington D.C. area since 1981, Swaim has been active in studio work as well as live performance with artists from both jazz and popular genres; he lists Danny Gatton, Keeter Betts, Carl Allen, Rosemary Clooney, Martha Reeves, Millie Jackson, The Spinners, Michael Feinstein, Ronnie Wells and Houston Person among his performance credits.
For his new recording Swaim focuses on his jazz credentials, working in a quartet setting that gives him room to stretch out and display his considerable technique and fertile imagination. On his website, Swaim lists his influences as "(in no particular order) Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Gene Ammons, Stanley Turrentine, King Curtis, Jr. Walker, Bobby Keys, Red Prysock, Lee Allen, Sil Austin, Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin, Charlie Rouse and Lester Young." Wow! That's a pretty comprehensive list, although, ironically, my first impression of Swaim's tenor reminded me of another fine tenor player, the Englishman Tubby Hayes. That is high praise, but Swaim has all the fluency and rhythmic drive that constituted Hayes best work. More important, however, Swaim has put all these influences together in his own way and emerged with a personal voice. He is not one of the many Coltrane/Brecker clones to be found in New York, so he has probably done well to avoid spending too much time in the city. Neverthless, this is great playing by any standards.
To add to the attraction of this recording, Swaim has put together a carefully selected program filled with quality material by significant jazz composers. He has turned to Brazilian composer Ivan Lins (Velas), Cannonball Adderley (Spontaneous Combustion), Bud Powell (Hallucinations, and Chick Corea (Litha and Captain Marvel). These are fresh compositions that hold the attention and keep the soloists on their toes. We also hear from Jerome Kern, but one of his overlooked pieces, Up With the Lark, that makes an engaging jazz waltz. Adding to the variety, Blame It on My Youth is a gorgeous ballad that receives a sensitive reading from Swaim and Cooley.
Speaking of the pianist on the session, Jay Cooley is another stalwart of the Washington music scene. Both his robust soloing and his sensitive work behind Swaim demonstrate why. Langosch and Smith complete a rhythm section that both push and support the tenor saxophonist throughout.
The reality is that in today's market, this recording will have to compete with a flood of others, many served up with a measure of hype. There is no hype with this recording, just professionalism and creativity. Those who make an effort to seek it out will be richly rewarded.
The Bruce Swaim Quartet
The Bruce Swaim Quartet tools around with everything from nostalgic swing to modern house-bop and plush romantic-jazz interludes on the band’s self-released recording Lucky Strikes. Recorded at Foxhaven Studios in Olney, Maryland and produced by the band’s bassist Paul Langosch along with their piano player Jay Cooley, Lucky Strikes bellows with an upbeat vibe that emanates from jazz clubs around the world.
There is an urban sophistication in front man/saxophonist Bruce Swaim’s style that radiates a wholesome nature, and a complimenting prose in the phrasing of Cooley’s keys that makes their synchronization agreeable even as the two rotate at different rates of speed and undercut each other’s improvisations. They rile up a dueling action that stimulates the rhythm section of Langosch and drummer Dominic Smith to partake in the events like in their rendition of Chick Corea’s perennial piece “Litha.” The rhythmic patterns lubricate the flow of the melodic surges so the compositions become the product of a well-oiled engine like the softly ruffled beats of Edward Heyman’s track “Blame It On My Youth” accentuated with tingling piano glissandos and slow cindering saxophone riffs.
Cooley’s piano work in Swaim’s original track “Blue” builds into fiery crescendos and recedes to a subdued flicker along Swaim’s rippling improvisations. There is a give and take between Swaim and Cooley that depicts a friendly tension as each works as a catalyst for the others. The torchlight glow of “Velas” produces succor aesthetics while the swing-flared blazes of “Mine Not Yours,” penned by Swaim, moves into Charles Parker’s territory with a full-bodied sound. Langosch applies an ointment of bluesy shimmers along “Up With The Lark” that propels the bop-voltage of Swaim’s saxophone, and drifts into a cool jazz gait along Julian Adderley’s tune “Spontaneous Combustion” as Swaim implements some fancy shuffling in his saxophone twirls while Cooley’s keys tippy toe along the melody’s path. The floral arrangement of curlicues in Cooley’s keys through “Blue” make this song come alive, and Cooley keeps an upbeat twinkle along Chick
Corea’s “Captain Marvel’ as Swaim and company infuse a samba-jazz shimmy.
The foursome display a chemistry that comes out naturally. Each musician connects with the others on a plane that is intangible to the audience. Their arrangements endeavor to create a fun atmosphere for themselves and their audience, which makes the Bruce Swaim Quartet’s music conducive to the jazz club exuberance. Lucky Strikes indeed demonstrates the quartet’s accoutrements as live musicians, even though it is not a live album. Between the four of them, they have enough experience performing live as sidemen for other recording artists to fill up Yankee Stadium thirty times over.
(writer, Cadence Magazine)
Bruce Swaim has long been one of the DC area's best kept secrets. Until now that is.
With the release of his new CD, Lucky Strikes, the wraps are finally off causing one to
wonder why it has taken so dang long. Bruce has assembled a fine band here, including
veteran bassist, Paul Langosch, in the service of an appealing collection of originals and
classics. Swaim is not really pushing the stylistic envelope here: this performance is
firmly and proudly in the Modern-Mainstream camp. But no matter, the music is alive
and passionately delivered by Swaim and company. Although there a couple of
enjoyable originals penned by the leader, most of the selections are Jazz standards.
Fortunately, Swaim has steered clear of the more shopworn pieces many Jazz
musicians seem all too willing to repeatedly trot out, and happily has given us a
selection of less frequently heard yet eminently deserving tunes. Perhaps as an
homage to one of his more pervasive influences, Joe Henderson, we get two Chick
Corea pieces- the tricky "Litha" and a dynamic rendition of "Captain Marvel". Though
one can readily hear Henderson's as well as Coltrane, Shorter and Brecker's (et al)
influence here and elsewhere, to Swaim's credit he has achieved a personal synthesis
of the above masters that rises well beyond the merely derivative. Swaim cements his
post-bop credentials with an enjoyable romp through Powell's "Hallucinations". Tender
lyricism is the watchword in his version of the Levant's melancholy Classic, "Blame it on
My Youth" which also features a nice spot for Langosch's bass and "Combustion"
reveals the bluesy roadhouse aspect to Swaim's style as well as providing Jay Cooley a
chance to deliver a laconic, swinging solo. Also here and throughout, drummer Smith
demonstrates why he is one of the DC area's more popular Jazz drummers. Lucky
Strikes proves to be an excellent introduction to Swaim's artistry. I personally will look
forward to future releases from him- it's obvious that he has plenty to say, let's hope he
finds many more opportunities to say it.
Bruce Swaim Quartet
My Heart Stood Still
By Bill Milkowski
DC area tenor saxophonist Bruce Swaim fronts a reliably swinging straight ahead jazz quartet on its third outing together. Pianist Jay Cooley contributes some impressive originals in "Keep Left" and the mellow "Silent Chime". Swaim's robust tone and lyrical quality is showcased on his ballad "Baby", while he burns a blue steak on his hard boppish closer, "Four Step Shuffle". Other highlights: a killing rendition of Horace Silver's "Mayrah", along with covers of Jimmy Heath's "Sound For Sore Ears" and Rodgers and Hart's "My Heart Stood Still", done in uptempo swinging fashion.