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Wayne Escoffery - Like Minds (Smoke Sessions)

13 April 2023

Like Minds, the latest album from saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, focuses on chemistry – particularly the chemistry between old friends and bandmates who’ve played together so often their interplay is beyond telepathic. To that end, Escoffery uses his regular bandmates – keyboardist David Kikoski, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr., replacing his late teacher Ralph Peterson, Jr. – as the backbone. While this configuration has been a band for only about seven years or so, Escoffery has played with them in so many other contexts they sound like longtime soulmates. The quartet is joined by other Escoffery compadres from across his career, including trumpeter Tom Harrell, guitarist Mike Moreno, and singer Gregory Porter, all of whom grok Escoffery’s vibe well.

None of this is surprising, mind you – even if you’re not familiar with the saxist himself, Escoffery’s position as co-director of the Mingus Big Band proves he knows how to lead the troops. In that respect, he takes them to fields of smooth hard bop (“Sincerely Yours”), mystical spirit jazz (Peterson’s “Song of Serenity”), soulful social commentary (“My Truth,” co-starring Porter and Harrell), smoky balladry (Duke Pearson’s “Idle Moments,” made famous by guitarist Grant Green), and funky bop fusion (Charles Mingus’s “Nostalgia in Times Square”). If that sounds too disparate, it ain’t – the tight arrangements, easy chemistry, and Escoffery’s warm tone make every song sound of a piece with the rest. Always smooth but rarely slick, Like Minds goes down like a great big bowl of spicy pho.