Jun 2, 2014
Is it possible that one of the most ubiquitous sax voices of the past few decades is about to release only his second solo CD? It was twenty years ago that Lenny Pickett, having put his years as a key member of Tower of Power in his rear view mirror, released Lenny Pickett with the Borneo Horns. Since then, he has played in T.O.P. reunions, and with a who’s who of jazz, funk and R&B royalty, form David Sanborn and Jimmy Haslip to Mariah Carey and Buddy Guy, to say nothing of his key spots in sessions for Rod Stewart, David Bowie and even Katy Perry. He’s been the main man on some of my favorite horn section recordings, most notably the seminal Waiting for Columbus live album by Little Feat.
But it’s his role as musical director of the Saturday Night Live Band that has made his trademark altissimo register on tenor sax and E-flat clarinet (executed by using a combination of embouchure control, air stream control, and alternate fingerings) a part of musical history. With the release of The Prescription, Pickett gets the chance to front an even larger ensemble – the Finnish UMO Jazz Orchestra – for a set of jazz workouts that never fails to please.
Given a chance to be the main man, Pickett shows off his chops with dizzying runs on “The Big Wiggle” and his Maynard Ferguson-like upper register on “XV”. There’s even a revisited version of the Tower of Power smash “What is Hip?” that lets Lenny replace the former lead vocal with his driving sound.
It’s hardly a vanity project though, as the UMO Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Rich Shemaria, is solid, and offers up some fine soloists on the humorous “A Sad State of Affairs” and a roaring guitarist in Teemu Viinikainen, and funky keyboardist in Kirmo Lintinen.
This is fun stuff. Let’s hope Lenny won’t wait so long for his next offering.