Ernie Krivda, Live At The Dirty Dog (CIMPoL). Except for three years in New York in the 1970s and occasional tours out of town, Krivda has remained in Cleveland during his five decades as a hard-driving soloist, bandleader, composer, arranger and educator. If he had stayed in New York, he might be famous, or as famous as a journeyman jazz musician can become these days. He recorded this, his 36th album, at The Dirty Dog in Grosse Point, Michigan, with a Detroit Rhythm section headed by the veteran pianist Claude Black. The prolific tenor saxophonist plays chorus after chorus on each of four standards and a blues. His ideas flow without repetition even through the album’s longest track, 14-and-a-half minutes of “I’ll Remember April.”
Krivda’s style is centered in a highly individual—even eccentric— treatment of the bebop convention. As I listened to the way he constructs his choruses here, I found myself thinking not of another saxophonist, but of trumpeter Clifford Brown, one of the great improvisational architects. Rather than simply applying occasional accents in strings of eighth notes, Krivda achieves variety by alternating long tones, swoops and declamatory phrases that give his solos the quality of speech. That practice is striking in his solo on “All The Things You Are,” particularly so in the cadenza, where he flies in the face of contemporary hipness and uses a wide vibrato. At moments like that, Krivda shows traces of Coleman Hawkins, his earliest inspiration. Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon may also be on his mind, but only as points of reference; the evolution of his originality is long since complete and his playing is virtually free of cliché. If he had ended “You Stepped Out of a Dream” with his deep-throated exposition of the melody, the performance would have been satisfying, but he goes on to improvise a solo with logic and intensity in perfect balance.
There is a delicious moment following Black’s subtle glissando introduction to “’Round Midnight.” We hear a group of women in the audience continuing their chatter. Krivda holds himself in suspension for several seconds until they get the hint and fall silent. Then he begins the famous melody and plays it with longing that makes you wonder about the source of the ache.
Pianist Black spent much of his career working with singers, including Aretha Franklin. His effectiveness as an accompanist is an important factor here. He solos with imagination, a rich fund of harmonic knowledge and lyrical little turns of phrase. In “A Blues by Any Other Name,” he manages to quote “Old Man River” without being a cornball. Black’s thoroughly compatible rhythm section compadres are bassist Dan Kolton and drummer Renell Gonsalves, the son of Duke Ellington’s tenor saxophone star Paul Gonsalves. Gonsalves’ brush work is impeccable, and he has exquisite timing in the placement of cymbal splashes.
The CD booklet contains an essay by Krivda in which he reflects on the fundamental values that he considers essential to jazz performance. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he writes as well as he plays, but his ideas are powerful and clearly presented. One of them involves the importance of swinging. I hope that a new generation of jazz players reads them and takes them to heart.