The very capable Aaron Heick has immersed himself in a musical community as diverse as the City of New York itself. In addition to his eight-year association with Chaka Khan, he has maintained a role as an active member of the New York studio scene. Between his frequent tours to Europe and Japan, Aaron Heick also finds time to sub regularly on Broadway.
It seems there is no one specific definition for Aaron Heick’s work as a saxophone player. His musical pursuits are as varied as his interests. The one constant in his musical life is the saxophone.
“I think the key to my success has always been diversity. I enjoy the variety. I’ve kept my fingers in a lot of different pies. I’ve always enjoyed playing a lot of different kinds of music. I love playing jazz as well as more contemporary stuff. I love playing rock, R&B and pop. I also love playing African and Brazilian music. I even like playing experimental stuff. It’s all equally valid,” he said.
I first heard Aaron Heick play alto saxophone when he was a member of the Berklee College of Music Recording Band under the direction of Herb Pomeroy. His sound and ability on the horn left an impression on me that I still remember almost 30 years later. What still stands out today is that Heick can transform himself from Sanborn to Stitt in an instance. Any comparison made to other artists serves only as a starting point. Heick is his own saxophonist. His saxophone sound is like the weather in New England. Wait a minute – it will change.
As a credit to Heick’s multiple influences on the saxophone, he and the ensemble have created their own unique blend of music. The recording reflects the work done at multiple studios throughout New York City with the bulk of the work being done by Heick himself. Many notable New York sidemen – such as Jim Beard and James Genus – round out the ensemble on various cuts.
The opening track Cool is a relaxed and funky cha-cha featuring Aaron Heick’s wonderful sound on alto saxophone. The opening statement, devoid of vibrato, displays his control and sense of great intonation. As the tune progresses, Heick overdubs himself in octaves, very reminiscent of those David Sanborn tracks many of us have enjoyed. There is only a hint of Sanborn in his playing, however an observable influence none-the-less. His solo lends further credence to his skills on the saxophone, particularly the technical gems shared on the fade out.
Throughout Daylight & Darkness the influences are apparent but not invasive to the music. One can’t help but make comparisons during Tuk-Tuk. Heick’s flute phrasing and piano melody are reminiscent of the Chick Corea and Joe Farrell pairing of the late 1970s. Alternatively, Heick’s solo on soprano sax seems to take on the character of the early Sanborn album Promise Me the Moon.
Although Heick’s music does sound commercial at times, his eclectic mix of influences and musical interests are in full bloom on Desert Lullaby and Daylight Stars. The dark, brooding, yet somehow playful arrangements both display Aaron’s affinity for other woodwinds beyond the saxophone. Here and elsewhere on Daylight & Darkness, Heick overdubs his personal alto saxophone sound with multiple woodwinds and double reeds.
Drifting Upstream offers a sound of hope and rebirth. What starts out as a lovely waltz, twists and turns through a maze of pristinely-executed polyrhythmic devices. To the casual listener it is simply a beautiful ballad set to a waltz tempo. Upon further investigation, the complexities of the implied duple and triple feel demonstrate the rhythmic awareness and sensitivity of the ensemble.
Aaron Heick stretches on alto sax on the sparse Another Day Gone By. His sense of rhythm in his improvised lines is enviable, particularly as demonstrated following the last melodic statement. Notably there are only two prominent solos generated from the ensemble outside Heick on woodwinds. Jim Beard notably solos on Wurlitzer Electric Piano on Another Day Gone By and electric guitarist Wayne Krantz on Palace of Sorrow.
Lastly, Heart of Darkness begins with a layered dissonance not previously heard on this recording. The punctuated woodwinds in octave unison are perfectly executed by Heick in what could be dangerous territory in the wrong hands. The mix of flute, piccolo, alto flute, English horn and bass clarinet offer a unique counterpoint to the solo soprano sax over synth pads and percussion.
To say that Aaron Heick’s Daylight and Darkness is an eclectic mix of music influences in his life is an understatement. Heick, for moments at a time, demonstrates the contemporary jazz influences of those who have come before. At other times he shares his legitimate skills on multiple woodwinds and double reeds. His understanding of jazz flute is obvious and one can only assume he has been influenced by the great jazz flautists of our time. Most importantly, his capabilities on alto and soprano saxophone are deftly demonstrated as only a dedicated student of Joe Viola’s could be.
I have been a fan of Aaron Heick since first hearing him while I was still in high school some 30 years ago. It is truly wonderful to see and hear his first solo release Daylight & Dreams. Can’t wait for his second release!