"Paul Kendall sounds like a natural jazz musician - his music has the stamp of authenticity - a little of the cool of Stan Getz, the bravado of Joe Lovano, and the bluesiness of an early period Sonny Rollins."

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Paul Kendall/Bob Leto Buy It
(Brownstone - BRCD 2-0003)
Track Listing: So In Love; You and the Night and the Music; A Look Inside; Charade; Excursions; Tom Thumb; Deluge; Peace
Personnel: Paul Kendall- tenor and alto saxophone
Bob Leto- drums
Kenny Drew Jr.- piano
John Ray- bass

Bridging the gap between standards and modern jazz is not only an admirable pursuit for today's musician but absolutely necessary. Necessary, if the music is to survive and move forward. Moving forward with great vision is the brilliant new quartet led by saxophonist Paul Kendall and drummer Bob Leto. "We have so much respect for those who came before us," Leto says, "but we still have to put our own stamp on it." Excursions effectively ties styles and eras with seamless segues that work. Cole Porter's So In Love sets up Arthur Shwartz's You and the Night and the Music. Henry Mancini's Charade is bookended nicely by two originals: Look Inside by pianist Kenny Drew Jr. and the title track by Kendall. The album progresses with two by Wayne Shorter, Tom Thumb and Deluge. Peace, a modern standard by Horace Silver, completes this rewarding program. Though he calls himself "a post-bop tenor player," Kendall is an exciting and versatile saxophonist on all reeds. He's also played baritone in big bands led by Charlie Persip and Ken McIntyre. At the age of 18, Leto won a National Endowment for the Arts award to study with masters Joe Morello and Tony Williams. These days, he is working in a new quartet with John Abercrombie and Vincent Herring. Rounding out this empathetic quartet is bassist John Ray and pianist Kenny Drew Jr. Ray is a busy freelance player in and around New York who has worked in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Drew is a hard-swinging and romantic player whose credits include winning the Great American Piano Competition in 1990. Noted jazz critic Ken Franckling says Excursions succeeds in uncompromising ways. 'The players," he explains, "teamed up with familiarity and anticipation and then they dug deep without losing sight of the melody and the need to swing."

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The primary strength of Excursions, a date co-led by tenor saxophonist Paul Kendall and drummer Bob Leto, is the contrast between Kendallís style and the recordís other primary soloist, pianist Kenny Drew Jr. A thoughtful, deliberate player with bebop roots and hints of Shorter and Coltrane in his approach, Kendall makes a visceral impact without getting showy. In contrast, Drew is a dramatic soloist whose influences encompass the entire scope of modern jazz piano, with a prodigious technique that he frequently uses to create flamboyant statements. Bassist John Ray, a longtime associate of the two leaders on the Long Island jazz scene, assiduously holds the band together, and contributes some interesting solos of his own. Letoís drums play a major role in the success of the recording because he invariably finds interesting ways to stimulate Kendall and Drew, especially in his dynamic exchanges with the pianist.

The title track is a Kendall composition that revolves around a repetitive, honking, two-note phrase, leaving plenty of space for Leto to roam around his kit and kick up a storm. The tenor saxophonist plays with a broad, nasal tone, brusquely pushing his way ahead and making brief forays into the upper and lower registers of the horn. Drew enters and dwells on a few notes for a bit, then quickly becomes more purposeful, with steely passages in the manner of McCoy Tyner. Leto follows his train of thought and offers encouragement with a variety of beats, particularly dramatic single stroke rolls on the snare and tom toms. Accompanied by the drummerís hi-hat cymbals and snare, Ray takes a nimble turn that is rich in ideas and execution. Kendall returns to the theme, but this time he gives Leto even more room to articulate a thunderous combination of rhythms.

The band takes Wayne Shorterís composition ìDelugeî for a soulful stroll, with Letoís strokes on the snare and toms functioning as a kind of supplemental melody. Kendall generates a great deal of heat by concentrating on keeping his sound full and briefly giving the impression that heís about to take off with a torrent of notes, only to pull back, frequently returning to a few high, keening tones. Drew begins casually, swinging comfortably within the stated pulse, and gradually gets weightier, pounding out forceful, repetitive patterns amidst the broad sweep of the drummerís ride cymbal. Leto and Drew play with a restrained intensity behind Rayís solo, in which the bassist displays a genuine flair for melodic invention.

The last track of the recording, ìPeace,î Horace Silverís often-covered ballad, begins with a sparse, doleful introduction by Drew, which leads to Kendallís straightforward treatment of the melody. The solo that follows is the saxophonistís most heartfelt of the set, expanding to a passionate release without transforming the bittersweet temper of Silverís composition. During the tentative start of Drewís turn, the music breathes easily, then his playing evolves into a series of long, virtuosic single note runs, sounding delirious as he rapidly shifts from one hand to the other.
•  By David A. Orthmann -

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Jazz Review

The new CD "Excursions" from saxophonist, Paul Kendall and drummer, Bob Leto accompanied by Kenny Drew Jr., on piano and John Ray on bass is a spectacular display of forward vision and composition without sacrificing the standards of traditional jazz.

The opening piece, "So In Love" is vibrant and colorfully done and serves as the hook for what lies ahead. A journey of post-bop swing with all the nuances that continue to build throughout the entire collaboration.

The nonstop rhythmic compilation, "Charade" a Henry Mancini standard lacks nothing and is taken to another level by these guys and provides the perfect segue to the next masterfully composed presentation.

As brilliantly as the journey begins with Cole Porter's, "So In Love", it ends with no less brilliance and finesse, with Horace Silver's, "Peace". The group does a mellow low-key session that puts a splendid close on an excellent collaboration. Each player has his own style which gives "Excursions a wonderful blend of depth, harmony and uniqueness that will surely please its listeners for years to come.
•  Trisha Weatherspoon

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Paul Kendall co-leads a lively middle-of-the-road set characterized by consistently energetic playing from the entire band. From Bob Leto's propulsive drums to Kenny drew Jr.'s busy piano to Kendall's active tenor, this quartet attacks their set of standards and originals with flair."So In Love" is played to a wild samba beat and Drew and Kendall knock off very appealing solos on Drew's composition "A Look Inside." The best work here comes on a pair of Wayne Shorter pieces. "Tom Thumb" is done as a nice mixture of New Orleans funk and reggae rhythms with Kendall double-tracking himself on tenor and alto while the moody "Deluge" is a showcase for the bluesier side of his playing. This quartet works very well together and provides a stimulating set.

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