By Ken Micallef | Published June 2018
Although he is the co-author of Saxophone For Dummies and has released Love Call and Keep On Rollin: A Tribute To Sonny Rollins (both on Nagel Heyer Records), and the earlier Neon Sounds (Double Moon), tenor saxophonist Denis Gäbel largely is an unknown quantity outside his native Germany. Performing his own compositions, Gäbel is supported on his fourth release as a leader by the crack U.S. rhythm section of pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Clarence Penn. The Good Spirits is a pleasant, post-hard-bop-styled outing revealing a talented saxophonist still in thrall to his influences, despite the bandleader’s compositions expanding his presence to a decidedly wider net.
Perhaps it’s Gäbel’s interesting changes, relaxed sense of space and arrangements or luxurious tempos that encourage Hays, Colley and Penn. But their performances are delightfully full-bodied and adventurous on The Good Spirits. Gäbel’s tone is big and plush, like a Sonny Rollins devotee in some casual blowing session; his songs are equally rich, driving and evocative enough to make them memorable.
The Michael Brecker-ish “Urge” follows a maze-like melodic line, Colley and Penn in hot pursuit, until the song opens wide on Gäbel’s solo, which automatically injects serenity into the space. Inspired and unbound by technical concerns, Gabel fires on all fours, which further inspires his bandmates.
The Good Spirits serves as a proper introduction to the tranquil coolness and carefree sounds of Gäbel and his merry band of American strutters.
The Good Spirits: The Good Spirits; Core, Wistfully Waltz; Insomnia; Urge, Heavy; Slow; Scoop; Glow; East Coasting; Shimmy; Everyone Leaves. (71:48)
Personnel: Denis Gäbel, tenor saxophone; Kevin Hays, piano; Scott Colley, bass; Clarence Penn, drums.