Saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh is an old soul. He favors spontaneity between performers on the bandstand, prefers the feel of a swinging band to heady, over-wrought music, and likes the sound of analog over digital. When it came time to work on a new project, Sabbagh wanted to record an album that would sound like a set in a club, and felt ready to look back to early influences. On Vintage, his first album as a leader featuring piano, Sabbagh enlists the piano legend Kenny Barron in his all-star quartet to help make a recording that connects generations and makes tradition vital once again.
Sabbagh has become well known for his original music and genre spanning ensembles, including those featuring electric guitarists Ben Monder and Greg Tuohey. Sabbagh also has an ear for the tradition. One of his seminal early jazz experiences came when he was a teenager and got to hear Stan Getz in Paris. Kenny Barron was Getz’s accompanist that evening and Sabbagh was taken immediately, standing outside the back door to get Getz and Barron’s autographs after the show.
Thirty years later, Sabbagh found himself at Barron’s house, where the two of them played standards and a number of Sabbagh’s originals. They each enjoyed the encounter, the older musician complimenting the younger on his compositions. In turn, Sabbagh loved Barron’s touch, clairvoyant comping and ease with the music. Knowing how rare it is to record with a legend, Sabbagh knew that he needed to get the project together.
Sabbagh enlisted favored bassist Joe Martin and Barron’s regular drummer Johnathan Blake, also a regular collaborator. He wrote a number of pieces with Barron in mind and compiled a large list of standards on which to call upon in the studio, hoping that the spontaneous, gig-like performance would spark some magic for the recording.
The quartet convened at Oktaven Audio in November of 2020, where they played all together in the main room of the studio. Sabbagh called tunes and aimed for the organic looseness of a live performance. The music was recorded to multitrack analog tape by Ryan Streber, and mixed to ½-inch tape at 30 ips on a custom Ampex 351 tube tape recorder by Pete Rende. Finally, the recording was mastered by industry legend Bernie Grundman and will be pressed to high quality 180g all analog vinyl in addition to digital.
The moment was captured beautifully, as the players surrendered to the music and provided uncontrived performances, superbly recorded to analog tape.
The recording begins with the title track, a piece of Sabbagh’s that captures that swinging feel that feels so right, and features some of Barron’s most fiery work on the record. Tadd Dameron’s “On a Misty Night” happens to be a favorite of Sabbagh and Barron’s. They effortlessly sing on this easy, medium tempo piece. Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” was picked specially for the session, as Sabbagh had heard Barron play a solo version at the Village Vanguard. They play it as a gorgeously intimate duo.
Sabbagh’s “Elson’s Energy” is inspired by a childhood friend from Brazil with whom Sabbagh had recently reconnected; the piece is joyous with the kind of percussive groove that Barron, no stranger to Brazilian music, has always had an affinity for. Slowing the pace, Sabbagh’s “Slay the Giant” provides a perfect vehicle for Sabbagh and Barron to showcase their unique lyricism.
The recording concludes with two Monk tunes, a nod to Sabbagh and Barron’s shared love for Monk’s music, “We See” and “Ask Me Now,” performed in duet at drummer Blake’s suggestion. The former is a spirited take with Barron showing his rhythmic ease and harmonic suppleness, while the latter is a loose, enchanting ballad, that showcases Sabbagh’s warm, glowing sound.
Most musicians try to compose and record things that will stand the test of time. With Vintage, Jerome Sabbagh set out to allow the music to flow in this unique encounter with Kenny Barron: to capture a fleeting, beautiful moment, forever.