Yes, that is what Paul Shapiro has. Yes, he can play the whole range of saxophones. On his latest CD, about which more momentarily, he even blows shofar, which isn't even a reed instrument.
Joking aside, Shapiro has that big, meaty tenor thing going, the sound that was the muscular bottom to hard bop and soul jazz from the early '50s through until fusion wiped it away in an electronic haze of tinkly Fender Rhodes pianos. He has put it to particularly good use with his Ribs 'n' Brisket Revue, a smart, funny evocation of '40s jump blues and the period in American popular music when R&B (heh, heh) hadn't quite evolved into rock 'n' roll while guys like Slim Gaillard and Cab Calloway were adding Jewish sounds to their palettes for spice and humor. That aggregation has been playing pretty regularly at Harlem's Floridita, the Cuban restaurant tucked under the West Side Highway at 125th St. and 12th Avenue.
Ribs 'n' Brisket -- Get 'Em While They're Hot!
Meanwhile, closer to the old Yiddish stomping grounds, on Thursday, July 9 Shapiro is playing his live score for the 1925 silent film His People (1925), directed by Edward Sloman, a not uninteresting filmmaker whose career sputtered out after the coming of sound. Shapiro will be leading a heavy-duty sextet, with Frank London on trumpet, Tomas Ulrich on cello, Brian Mitchell on piano, Dave Hofstra on bass and Tony Lewis on drums. It’s an open-air event at the Abrons Art Center at the Henry Street Settlement (466 Grand St.), beginning at 8:30 pm.
Which brings me to Shofarot Verses, his most recent CD release, on the Tzadik label. Shapiro is united again with Tony Lewis and they are joined by Marc Ribot on guitar and Brad Jones on acoustic bass, a very agreeable quartet, to say the least. The album is something of a giddy hybrid, showing off all sides of Shapiro’s musical personality, from the dark, intense spirituality of a solo version of “Hashiveinu” to the guitar-driven antics of “Surfin’ Salami.” His playing is mercurial, sonically rich and harmonically dense, and the shifts in mood are deftly achieved and frequently quite funny. Given the numerous references to the High Holy Days on the album, this might just be perfect listening for the month of Elul.
You can find out more about all of the many faces and facets of Shapiro on his own website, which will also send you to places where you can buy his records.