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  • Jonathan Widran

LORI BELL, Recorda Me: Remembering Joe Henderson

Legendary for his work spanning forty years and several eras of traditional and contemporary jazz, saxophonist Joe Henderson – in addition to releasing numerous solo albums for Blue Note, Milestone and Verve, recorded and performed with the likes of Horace Silver (including the seminal solo on “Song for My Father”), Herbie Hancock, Lee Morgan, the Miles Davis Quintet and even Blood, Sweat and Tears. While most jazz aficionados can share details of his great legacy, a “fun fact” that’s not prominent on his Wiki page is that Henderson was a multi-instrumentalist, also playing drums, piano, bass and flute.


If you’ve ever imagined what some of the saxophonist’s classic tunes might have sounded like on flute, you have a lot in common with veteran flute master Lori Bell, who uses her expansive skills and vast melodic and harmonic imagination to pay tribute to Henderson on Recorda Me: Remembering Joe Henderson, an intricately crafted yet highly adventurous, improvisational and fun-spirited quartet date featuring Bell’s always exquisite and imaginative flute vibing with the fresh harmonies and grooves of pianist Josh Nelson, bassist David Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle.


Though Bell’s dynamic arrangements of the Henderson tunes are tailored for the timbre and range of her instrument, she’s well aware that it’s unusual for a flutist and not a fellow saxophonist to take on the eight classics that form the basis for the collection. One of the challenges was that Henderson rarely played flute in pubic and, unlike some saxmen of his caliber, was not known as a “doubler.”


Back in 2008, Bell on her second album boldly took on the catalog of Brazilian great Djavan. The sessions that evolved into Recorda me didn’t start out with an overall high concept of doing a tribute to Henderson, but from a deep, flight of fancy filled dive into “Serenity,” a whimsical fast swinging and deeply improvisational tune from his 1965 Blue Note album In ‘n Out. She heard it in her head with a 6/4 afro groove and fleshes it out with Schnelle’s exotic rhythms and Nelson’s nimble harmonies and solo. She starts with a laid-back lyrical flow and lets the song build in intensity towards her more rambunctious soloing towards the end.


She quickly realized she might want to record an entire album of Henderson compositions. Using “Serenity” as the prototype and a creative springboard, she makes everything truly her own, drawing mainly from his ultra-prolific mid-60’s era that included appearances on nearly 30 albums for Blue Note, including five under his name.


These include an swirling, otherworldly spin on “Isotope,” where Bell’s flute and Nelson’s piano hop, skip and jump in Schnelle’s busy cushion of percussion; a freewheeling, sometimes dizzying romp through “Shade of Jade”; a charming strut through the mega-moodswings (from cool and breezy to flurry-filled) of “Punjab”; and a sweetly soulful, vibrantly colorful journey through “Recorda Me” that, like most of the tunes, offer ample solo time to each member of the quartet. The one song that’s not from the 60s is “Black Narcissus” (from 1977), given a gentle, almost mystical arrangement that taps into the more sensitive side of Bell’s and Nelson’s vast artistry.


Though Bell cleverly chooses not to put them back to back in the tracking, she creates a fascinating “Black Narcissus” sandwich out of a snappy joyride through Henderson’s classic astral projection “Inner Urge” and her own composition, the busy, bustling, improv-loaded jam “Outer Urge,” which serves as the perfect high octane rejoinder.  

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