Although Ira Sullivan performed with jazz luminaries like Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Roland Kirk, and Art Blakey, his music is not as widely known among general audiences: however, as a master on the saxophone, flute, and trumpet, he had a reputation among his peers as an outstanding bebop soloist. Trumpeter Brad Goode called Sullivan “one of the greatest soloists in the history of the music.”
A regular on the Chicago music scene, Sullivan moved to Miami to teach at the esteemed Frost School of Music. Although he continued to perform in the Miami area, he decided to limit his touring performances and instead chose to focus on teaching. He became one of the leading jazz educators in the U.S., mentoring several generations of up-and-coming musicians.
Ira Sullivan died in 2020 at the age of 89 and a year later the house band of Blue Stone Records Studio released this tribute to Ira Sullivan with his son Brev playing lead guitar.
Ira The Tribute opens with Cole Porter’s ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’, which, apparently, was one of Ira’s favourites. The tune is played at a very fast tempo and features what is described as “flamboyant drum solo by Abanto”. The drumming is, in my opinion, overplayed and adds little to the musicality of the number (this is the type of tune I would except to hear towards the end of a set to please the crowd). The guitar playing is technically good with the tune cleanly picked but where was the nuance, the playfulness of the original: technique over substance?
‘Monday’s Dance’ and ‘Circumstance’ are penned by Ira Sullivan and, again, are technically well-played. Both are performed at a slower pace than the opener, which I found easier on the ear. It is on ‘Circumstance’ that we finally get to hear the sax of Yanier Horta, albeit briefly, which is nice enough but does not carry any of the feeling heard in Ira Sullivan’s playing. ‘Multimedia’ is also a Sullivan composition The tune moves between fusion, rock, and jazz, there is some good drum and percussion work from Kevin Abanto as well as a more satisfying sound from Horta on sax. Miriam Stone leads on the electric guitar in the fusion style with good support from Espinoza on bass – admirers of jazz fusion would find something here to enjoy.
‘Icarus’ has a prog feel about it and I am not sure where this fits in with a tribute to the bebop sound Ira Sullivan was known for. The sax is featured but sits too far back in the mix, which is dominated by the guitars, to add anything of any significance to the number. Sullivan’s ‘Nineveh’ gets the rock treatment and, for me, suffers for it. The original is a fascinating piece of writing and beautifully played by Sullivan on alto sax. The version on this album turns beauty on its head and then kicks it into touch for good measure.
‘Our Delight’ is, according to the press pack, the most standard tune on the album and I cannot argue with that. It is a wonderful tune played at an upbeat tempo with energy and a lightness of touch that makes it, for me, the standout track on the album. This is followed by ‘The Little Train of Caipira’ with its classical guitar melody opening the tune. The drums play a moving train like pattern with electric guitar picking up the melody. As with the tune that preceded it, this track has a deftness of touch and is given space to breathe. I did enjoy the sax solo with its reference to Brazil, the country in which Caipira can be found.
‘Espresso Bueno’ continues the Latin vibe and is a crowd pleaser in live performances. This is another good tune with energy and a great get up and dance rhythm driving it along. The percussion and drums are very good here and, unlike the opening track, do not consume the number. ‘Amazing Grace’ completes the ten tracks of this album and was the closing set number for Ira Sullivan’s live performances. The playing here is gentle and feels like it is being played in memory of the musician who inspired this tribute album.
I was not familiar with the work of Ira Sullivan before being sent this album to review but I have been listening to some of his work and will be following up this post with further research into the man and his music. From what I have heard, I do not feel that this album is a fitting tribute to a man known for “his unimpeachable harmonic sense and his intuitive and sympathetic playing.” * The album’s opening tracks lack substance, style, and subtlety. It is only when we get to tracks seven through nine do I feel that the band are paying tribute to a jazz musician, which is a shame because there is little doubt that the band can play and whilst there was a great deal of technique on display here, there was little sense of an understanding of the musicianship the album was supposed to be playing tribute to.
* Paraphrasing Cook R and Morton B (2006 p 1242) The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. Eighth Edition. Penguin Books, London.
Ira The Tribute Album – Blue Roads Record Band released 25 February, 2022
Musicians: Brev Sullivan – lead guitar; Leo Quintero – lead guitar; Miriam Stone – acoustic & electric guitar; Javier Espinoza – bass; Yainer Horta – keyboards & sax; Kevin Abanto – drums & percussion.
Tracklist: 1. I Get a Kick Out of You. 2. Monday’s Dance. 3. Circumstantial. 4. Multimedia. 5. Icarus. 6. Nineveh. 7. Our Delight. 8. Little Train of Caipira. 9. Espresso Bueno. 10. Amazing Grace.