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52 Jazz Tracks for 2021. 51. ‘Big Jim Does the Tango for You’ – Bennie Wallace, Big Jim’s Tango, 1983

The 51st of Jon Turney’s weekly selections finds an undersung tenor player reaching for the heights.

There are any number of great tenor saxophone players who never quite achieve the recognition they deserve. Take Bennie Wallace. His discography is high quality, but not huge. When I think of his name, it is usually this tune that comes to mind first. It’s a bit like being a minor poet, I guess. A perfectly respectable thing to be, and if you end up with a single fine poem in anthologies after a lifetime’s work, well, that’s better than artistic oblivion isn’t it?

Anyhow, it’s a great track, from one of the recordings Wallace cut for Enja in the late ’70s and early ’80s. That was when his personal blend of swing-era lines and post-bop, all adorned with a Rollins-like swagger that sometimes almost slipped into caricature, came together.

This one stands out because of the dream team of Dave Holland and Elvin Jones in their sole outing with the saxophonist. Jones makes the initial tango rhythm stand to attention, and Holland underscores it, while Wallace states the initial theme. As Wallace liked to do, it treats a well-known genre with affection, while salting the solo parts with Dolphyesque intervallic leaps, all the while showing his mastery of tenor styles from Webster to Rollins. No idea who Big Jim was, but his tango is memorable.

LINKS:
Hear the track on Spotify

More on this recording on Jon’s Bristol Jazz Log

Read Jon’s introduction to the ’52 tracks’ series

Week 50. Smiling Billy Suite – The Heath Brothers

Spotify playlist for the series

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