March 04, 1991 12:00 PM


Vincent Herring

Vincent Herring paid his dues as a jazz saxophonist the hard way. When he arrived in New York City in 1983 at age 19, he took to the streets, hat in hand. For three years Herring blew his horn on-street corners six hours a day, collecting enough nickels and dimes to cover his rent. Word of mouth about him gradually spread among musicians and led to long-term gigs with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and pianist Horace Silver.

These days Herring fronts his own band and works regularly as a sideman with the hard-bopping cornetist Nat Adderley.

Like Nat’s late brother, Julian “Cannon-ball” Adderley, Herring also has a gutsy, crowd-pleasing style. While Herring clearly owes a debt to Cannonball, his sound is distinctly his own. With these first two albums, released within weeks of each other by separate labels, Herring offers proof that he is one of the most vibrant, original sax players to come along in years.

On American Experience (MusicMasters), Herring brings a searing attack and billowing tone to a set of incendiary bop tunes, backed primarily by a supporting cast that includes trumpeter Dave Douglas, pianist Bruce Barth, bassist James Genus and drummer Mark Johnson. Herring’s sure-fingered rhythmic sense and exuberance are especially apparent on an aptly titled original composition, “Elation.” One complaint: The album ends on a downer with a tepid vocal version of Horace Silver’s “Peace” by Monte Croft.

Evidence (Landmark) is a more consistent, if less exhilarating album. Joined by trumpeter Wallace Roney, pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Carl Allen, Herring burns through the changes on the up-tempo original “Mr. Wizard.” And he reveals his growing capacity for tenderness on “Stars Fell on Alabama,” one of Cannonball’s signature tunes.

At his best, Herring brings to his playing a feeling of joyful abandon that is rare among the young virtuosos on the jazz scene today. Like musicians of old, who honed their technical skills in after-hours jam sessions instead of in the classroom, Herring treats jazz as more than a venerable tradition. For him, it is the music of life.

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