Lenny Popkin: Sax Section

Saxophonist and Tristano disciple Popkin manages to blend strains of Italian modernist composer Giacinto Scelsi with As Time Goes By


There’s a clue in that title, but it’s still not often that a JJ review of an overdubbed solo saxophone release can cite both Julius Hemphill and the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi by way of precedents. If this suggests a strain of rarefied music, at least as far as the audience purely for jazz is concerned, then that’s fine, because there are pieces on this set, The Corner being a case in point, where Popkin produces music fresher than today.

Lenny’s Boogie does its own thing in the titular clue stakes, centred as it is on a riff venerable enough to make Chuck Berry blush. Still, the top line, perhaps the only line in the piece improvised “in the moment”, is something of a showcase for Popkin’s sometimes lighter than air tone, itself a clue as to how closely he still adheres to the Lennie Tristano school.

Celeste is where the echoes of Scelsi come into their own, and the fact that they do in the midst of allusions to As Time Goes By is a thing of unassuming wonder. The sense of unease which permeates the piece ensures a kind of musical depth which takes it well outside of the mainstream.

As a title, Reflection is unusually apt as Popkin responds in real time (presumably) to the tracks he’s already built up, and does so in a manner suggestive of a musician to whom the lightning-fast responses that were once indicative of the archetypal jazz musician come as naturally as breathing. As such the music serves as a summary of an unusually stimulating album.

Victory Jam; Louis Blues; The Corner; Lenny’s Boogie; All In; Celeste; Reflection; Oracle; Mood; Cypher; Enigma; Quartet; Free Bop (56.10)
Popkin (ts). 2019. No location(s).
Lifeline Records LR105CD