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Serge Chaloff - Boston Blow-Up!

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Artist: Serge Chaloff

Album: Boston Blow-Up!

Label: Capitol

Review date: Jun. 29, 2006

Serge Chaloff never recorded a note with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, but that casual fact didn’t preclude him a slot in the bombastic bandleader’s popular “Kenton Presents” series for Capitol. Marketed as a spotlight anthology for various Kentonians in smaller group settings, the series also included albums by Frank Rosolino, Sal Salvador and Boots Mussulli, who plays alto on Chaloff’s session. Also populating the Beantown-based sextet: trumpeter Herb Pomeroy; Ray Santisi on keys; Everett Evans on bass and Jimmy Zitano behind the drum kit.

The notes to Boston Blow-Up! use the sanitizing catchphrase “personal problems” to describe Chaloff’s prolonged struggles with heroin. He was sidelined off and on for nine years by the habit and only recently released from rehab at the time of this 1955 date. Nevertheless, like Bird, his talents transcended his enervating addiction and he ranked easily as one of the most brilliant baritone saxophonists of the 1950s. Originally influenced by Harry Carney’s work with Ellington, Chaloff shaped a sound closer to that of bop modernists like Pepper Adams and Lars Gullin. Unlike the more genteel style of Gerry Mulligan, he wasn’t averse to mining the more guttural regions of the instrument’s bottom register, doling out boisterous honks and bluesy slurs for added vibrancy and color.

The constrictive shroud of Kenton hangs over many of tracks, particularly in the carefully arranged polyphonic parts for the horns that occasionally pall, even under the relatively terse time spans. But there’s also the palpable presence of Chaloff’s earlier employer Woody Herman, especially in the tight boppish harmonies of pieces like “Bop the Robin” and “Sergical.” Oddly enough, it’s two standards that deliver the most concentrated and emotive solos from Chaloff. On “What’s New,” he looks back to Carney, assembling a gauzy statement textured with tonal slides and curled smears as Pomeroy and Mussulli supply shapely accents. That most hoary of saxophonic staples, “Body and Soul” receives an even more effusive treatment, with the melody sleeved in a velvety sheath of tonal muslin. Most unexpected is “Diane’s Melody,” an opulent, if concise, tone poem penned by Jaki Byard well before the pianist’s own debut date as a leader; it begs for a longer treatment.

“Boomareemarjoa” and “Herbs,” the latter rendered in two takes, augment the album’s original 10. Even with the additional material, the running time still holds to a modest three quarters of an hour. The brevity is reflective of just how little Chaloff exists on record. Blue Serge, a quartet date also released on Capitol, is widely regarded as his masterstroke, but this long out of print precursor remains an exhilarating companion. Cream of the crop baritone bop.

By Derek Taylor

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