Talented, experienced, respected — all terms that come to mind when describing tenor saxman Joel Frahm, but the one that comes most to my mind is versatile. That quality is prominently displayed on his new album, We Used To Dance, due out soon on the Anzic label. It provides him plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his versatility, as he adapts his playing into a number of different styles.
Frahm – who has been a solid fixture on the New York jazz scene for a couple of decades – is joined here by the trio of Kenny Barron on piano, Rufus Reid on drums, and bassist Victor Lewis. All three have a rich background too, including working with Stan Getz for years, but they allow Frahm to be the star here, and although it’s not his first album, it is billed as his “coming out” as a jazz star.
Mentioning Getz gives rise to the inevitable comparisons between Frahm and the legend, but that’s kind of a no-win situation in most cases. Frahm makes no secret of his admiration for his predecessor, and he includes on the album a couple of tunes from the Getz songbook, both written by Barron. “Song For Abdullah” is a soft and sweet tribute to pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, and “Joanne Julia” is also a nice listen. Frahm weaves a nice, melodic path through the music, with enough surprises to keep us engaged, and there are definitely echoes of Getz.
The balance of the tunes on the album were mostly written by Frahm, and prove that he’s definitely not a one-trick pony. It’s a nice assortment that has a little bit of everything, from bop and post-bop, such as the driving sound of “A Whole New You”, to the bossa nova rhythms of “Jobimiola”.
As much as I enjoyed those, to my ear he shows his best side when he smoothly cruises through the ballads. The title song itself is a nice, soft and straight-ahead charmer written by Frahm, but even better were a couple of tunes from other writers — “My Ideal”, and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”, which certainly qualifies as the longest song title on the album in addition to being my favorite. Frahm is at his best when he smoothly and confidently takes us along on what is obviously a pleasure-filled trip for him, as a balladeer.
1. Bob’s Blues 6:08
2. Nad Noord 6:43
3. Joanne Julia 8:57
4. A Whole New You 4:23
5. Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most 7:54
6. Jobimiola 4:26
7. My Ideal 5:58
8. Song For Abdullah 6:22
9. The Dreamer 4:21
10. We Used To Dance 5:37