Cecil Payne - Zodiac LP
Label: Pure Pleasure
It's impossible to talk about this album without acknowledging the spectre of death that hangs over it - not only is it the third entry in Strata-East Records' Dolphy Series, a collection of archival recordings from some of the label's close associates honoring the recently deceased multi-instrumentalist, but it is actually dedicated to two members of the band, Wynton Kelly and Kenny Dorham, who died in between the recording sessions and its release. The point is driven home even further by the fact that the album begins with a tribute from Payne to the fallen Martin Luther King, Jr., a piece that acts as a de facto solo for Dorham - his playing all rosy elegance and regal warmth - before shifting into the lighter (though equally coolly-paced) "I Know Love," a showcase for Payne's sax. While not the most somber jazz track ever recorded, this opening suite is a low-key and mournful way to open the affair, but thankfully the album really picks off and shows these musicians more in their element the rest of the way.