When we think of alto saxophonists in bebop, we may think of Charlie Parker, Dave Schildkraut, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt, and Jackie McLean, but a similar saxophonist to these musicians that came just a little too late on the jazz scene to get the recognition he would have otherwise received is Richie Cole, who has been one of jazz's great alto saxophonists since the early 1980s and famously battled the Parker-like saxophonist Sonny Stitt "Down Under".
When it came to very fluent alto saxophonists, Richie Cole largely replaced Schildkraut and McLean, although Cole sounded like Art Pepper on some recordings. Cole had excitement on his instrument and a hard-to-match fluency. Any session, whether in a recording studio or live, was blessed when Richie Cole took center stage.
Cole's exciting improvisation turned one evening performance at the Village Vanguard into a very lively one. For this Village Vanguard performance, Cole was playing alto saxophone on most tracks with several musicians, including now-local guitarist Bruce Forman, pianist Bobby Enriquez, Marshall Hawkins on bass, and Scott Morris on drums. Richie Cole began the performance at the Village Vanguard with "Punishment Blues", then followed it with the well-known ballad (slow tune) "Body and Soul", and then played a Latin jazz tune, Samba De Orfeu. After Samba De Orfeu Cole and his band (whose names are listed above) played a few more tunes, including "Yardbird Suite".
However, Samba de Orfeu, which was recorded with Cole's jazz group at this Village Vanguard performance, is one of the excellent proofs not only of the great energy Richie Cole had during his improvisation, but also how the rest of his band was also lively. This was either because he selected people like him for his band or because Cole's energy spread to the other musicians.
The recording described in this jazz review. You can also watch the video by going to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PB7sjhhN5Jc.
The group begins with the Samba De Orfeu tune, which is played at a quite a fast rate considering the Latin rhythm, and the tune is over before thirty seconds of the recording have passed. Another thirty seconds, which feel like a whole minute because Cole packs his improvisation with so much content, are enough time for Cole to steadily build excitement, which was quite high from the recording's beginning. Around the two-minute mark of the recording, the band has reached a seemingly unstoppable level, and Richie Cole comes out with some stunning phrases and montunos (Afro-Cuban musical patterns).
Next, the guitarist, Bruce Forman, takes a solo. At first, this results in the excitement level dropping significantly, but Forman quite quickly builds his improvisation, and at one point, he and the piano player play a phrase twice together. Forman continues to build his solo and the drummer increases intensity once more. It is not long before Forman is improvising in a similar way to Richie Cole, and Forman's solo is three minutes in all, quite notably longer than Cole's improvisational time.
The next solo is by another technically superb musician, the pianist, Enriquez. Although Enriquez's improvisation seems fairly "reasonable" at first, as his solo progresses, the easier it becomes to question his sanity - in a good way. Like Forman's guitar solo and Cole's saxophone solo, Enriquez has great fire and intensity during his piano solo, although most people would probably not want to hear improvisation of that intensity for too long.
The recording is closed with a quote from the tune "Saint Thomas".