Blues in the Nude
Reviewed by Jeremy Steinberger, Fri., Aug. 24, 2018
Zack Varner is an experienced jazz saxophonist, but Blues in the Nude arrives as the Atlanta native's debut as composer and arranger. Varner expertly honors tradition with hard bop and swing themes while simultaneously exploring and building on the genre's evolution through tango, bossa nova, and samba-infused textures. A blues-rooted progression by the project's rhythm section jolts the opening title track before an effervescent sax solo introduces Varner. "Faux Tango #4" intros the album's Latin touch in Chick Corea meets Return to Forever fashion, while a yearning piano intro and poignant bass solo on "Russian Dog Dreams" retrieve the blues by plucking and pulling melancholy into a poetic whine. Standout "Stonehenge Throwdown" begins violently with a rhythm section wail that dissolves into creeping piano and watchful horns, which envelop you like waking up in a city ravaged by war the evening prior. The song's range speaks to that of the entire project, Varner's 15 years of experience rife with boundless invention and a desire to push modern jazz to new heights with grace, class, and ingenuity.