The Van Sant/Palmer Jazz Duo: “Play the Music Of Horace Silver” – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

Jazz Guitarist Kevin Van Sant and Bassist Ben Palmer are two local North Carolina Jazz artists who not only share a love for Jazz and the improvised line, but apparently a love for the music of pianist/composer Horace Silver as well. This much is evident on their latest release The Van Sant/Palmer Jazz Duo Play the Music Of Horace Silver, as they dig down deep into Silver’s song book coming up with some interesting and not often played tunes by the man best known for supplying Steely Dan with the opening bass movement for “Rikki Don’t Lose that number”…:)

Kevin Van Sant has clearly paid attention to the Jazz Guitarists who have come before him. He has a smooth, velvety tone that sounds great at full volume and when played softly. His commitment to the instrument – as an improviser and accompanist – is quite accomplished and comprehensive, bowing to the tradition, while acknowledging a modern familiarity as well. Check out his blowing on “Soulville” as Van Sant displays a swinging solo style alongside some interesting triadic harmonies that at times reminds me of a young Jim Hall. His chord solos on “Strollin’” and “Juicy Lucy” are definitely worth two thumbs up in my book, as is his chord melody intro to the tune “Peace”. And the voicings he uses for the hauntingly lovely tune “Lonely Woman” are beautifully played.

The same melodic and harmonic adroitness is of course found on the remaining tunes such as “Silvers Serenade”, “Nica’s Dream”, “Summer In Central Park” and “Ecaroh”. But it is “Enchantment” and the Caravan-ish “Calcutta Cutie” that feature Van Sant’s nimbleness with the single line as he skillfully navigates the changes using fast runs, interesting double stops and chord solos. There’s even an apropos quote of Ellington’s Caravan during Van Sant’s solo on “Calcutta Cutie” in case the song sounds a “tad familiar” but you can’t quite place it. Nicely done indeed!

Rounding out the duo is Bassist Ben Palmer. Palmer is the kind of Bassist any player would want to have in his/her corner. He has a strong sense of time, a fat tone, and can walk with the best of them. He also provides solid support and seems to have a great knack for not getting in the way. His improvisational abilities are also top notch and featured on nearly every tune, supported by Van Sant’s deft comping. Palmer can also bow a mean melody as is evident on the tune “Nica’s Dream”. His solo on that same tune is inspiring and definitely a showcase number. It’s no wonder Kevin grabbed Ben for this gig!

It’s obvious, while listening to this CD, that Van Sant and Palmer are, without a doubt, very talented musicians who play nicely off each other while sounding completely whole. But I would be remiss if I did not point out that the “third” member of this duo is Horace Silver, or rather, his compositions.

Silver has been a mainstay in Jazz for the past five decades and has written the soundtrack to the Hard Bop movement time and time again. His music is quite distinctive and uniquely stylistic providing Van Sant and Palmer with a songbook that is rich in history and musical inventiveness. I can only imagine how fun and difficult it must have been choosing the tunes. Hopefully there will be Volume Two.

*I’m being silly of course. The opening bass line to Silver’s “Song For My Father” was “borrowed” by Steely Dan as a way to bring their love of Jazz to a broader, hip audience.

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