Luke 2:25-35 gives the Biblical account of Simeon, a devout Jew to whom it was revealed that he would not die until he saw the Son of God. It is this revelation and Simeon’s blessing of Jesus, Joseph and Mary that provides the inspiration for the Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship’s self-produced “Song of Simeon, a Christmas Journey.” Scruggs, who was born in Atlanta, grew up in Raleigh and has since returned to Atlanta, is a tenor and soprano saxophonist, and his album is one of the few seasonal recordings that satisfies both the jazz spirit and the religious spirit.
Scruggs’ rhythm section comprises guitarist Dan Baraszu, pianist Brian Hogans, bassist Tommy Sauter, drummer Marlon Patton and percussionist Kinah Boto Ayah plus an eight-man horn section. Opening with “O Come, O Come, Emanuel,” which merges into “The Annunciation – Gabriel’s Message,” Scruggs commits the group to a strong jazz groove and evocative harmony in the horns. Like Dave Brubeck, he knows when to swing and when to remain stately. The album features solos by Baraszu and Hogans as often if not more frequently than Scruggs. The guitarist and pianist are agile, tasteful soloists and ensemble players who blend perfectly into the leader’s concept.
Scruggs’ strongest solo is a John Coltrane-like, mid-Eastern soprano saxophone turn-on “Ideo Gloria.” He also digs deep into “Joy to the World” with a shouting, soulful tenor chorus bolstered by Sauter’s hefty bass walk. “Go Down, Moses,” the album’s most down-home performance, features trumpeter Joe Gransden and Scruggs in idiomatic solos and a New Orleans-style out-chorus. For information or to buy the album, see willscruggs.com.
Correspondent Owen Cordle