By Dan McClenaghan
With tenor saxophonist David Sills, three big “s” words come to mind: Swinging, soulful, and…surfing?”
Check out the cover photo on his Green CD. You might think it a re-release of a forgotten Chantays—of “Pipeline” fame—album from 1963. The guy on the surfboard—David Sills himself—is cutting into a bottom turn on a clean, overhead steel blue wave, with, it appears, a tube in his immediate future.
Surfing aside, Sills proves himself a saxophonist/composer riding deep in the jazz tradition. Green finds him in the company of a stellar quintet of Los Angeles mainstays: altoist Gary Foster, guitarist Larry Koonse, pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Tim Pleasant. From the opening burst of the Sills-penned “Melon Head,” a 1960s Blue Note Records influence is evident, with a first-rate straight-ahead atmosphere.
On Sills’ previous Eastern View (Origin Records, 2004), the saxophonist’s sound was compared to Joe Henderson and Stan Getz. Those influences seem still at work, with perhaps some of the richer tones of Coleman Hawkins creeping into the mix. Sills’ soloing still brings Henderson to mind—that smooth, freewheeling storytelling approach, the tales full of twists and surprises.
The hard-bop feeling softens up on Alec Wilder/Morty Palitz’s “Moon and Sand,” with Sills on flute in front of Koonse’s crisp guitar work. The group takes on Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” and comes up with gorgeous, straightforward version of the classic, with Sills sounding particularly soulful; and the disc’s title tune has a fluid mainstream jazz flow that could serve as a soundtrack to a wave-riding session, with saxophonist David Sills deep in the tube.