Los Angeles based Saxophonist and educator Shawn Costantino has released “Waltz for Anne.” The quintet features Andrew Synowiec, guitars; Lincoln Cleary, keyboards; David Hughes, bass and Jens Kuross, drums as well as Costantino on saxes and woodwinds.

Listening to Costantino and his wonderful ensemble is one the best surprises this reviewer has had in recent weeks. Not knowing much about Mr. Costantino, I quickly yearned to know more about this bold tenor man through a Google search. It seems we both began our lives in the Blackstone Valley of Central Massachusetts and immediately there seemed a secondary connection beyond the saxophone.

I have to say that I was a bit skeptical when first reading the track list of Shawn Costantino’s “Waltz for Anne.” The first cut on this jazz recording was listed as The Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love. Upon hearing the first few bars of the somewhat odd sounding Sitar/guitar intro my skepticism deepened. That all went out the window when I heard Costantino’s bold tenor sound and relaxed phrasing. I soon realized this group led by Costantino was a force to be reckoned with. Costantino generously soloed last after the very capable Synowiec and Cleary on guitar and organ respectively.

The second cut, Whatever You Do opens with a lovely sax and guitar harmony. As I continued to listen my appreciation grew even more for this is music that truly speaks to me as a saxophonist and musician. Costantino solos first showing off his beefy tenor sound with a flurry of notes and rhythmic variation to rival the sound. The Rhodes solo by Lincoln Cleary is classic, vintage sounding and refreshing and new all at the same time. This group has a sound that is unique and appealing – reverent to the past and completely 2011 at the same time.

As mentioned before the first glance at the track list on “Waltz for Anne” left me wondering. Let Me Be Lonely Tonight by James Taylor, which formally featured both Michael Brecker and David Sanborn, could be a tricky cover to pull off. Costantino gives it a treatment that is all his own – and equally compelling.

Each subsequent track of “Waltz for Anne” of which I listened seemed to peel back another layer of this complex musician named Shawn Costantino. The Transplant has a melody played in unison by Costantino and Synowiec, which then leads into Costantino’s prodding and questioning tenor. Each of the sidemen all reactively and sensitively responds to Constantino’s solo, which diminishes into David Hughes short, but melodic bass solo. Costantino picks up the bass clarinet for just a bit of spice behind Kuross’ drum solo, which comes before the final melodic statement.

Cleary performs the tender, unaccompanied piano introduction to the title cut. Quite by surprise, Costantino’s tenor is vibrant and out-in-front of the mix. The contrast is even more striking as tenderness seems to switch to anger at about the 2:30 mark. Anne sounds pissed! J The rough edges are chamfered a bit at the onset of Costantino’s tenor solo, however he swiftly begins to take some risks as well a “taking it out” a bit. As much as I love this recording, the musical schizophrenia within the tune Waltz for Anne may be an acquired taste.

The full scope and depth of Shawn Costantino’s tenor sound is realized within The Touch of Your Lips. The sparsely accompanied ballad lends way into a medium waltz where Costantino’s sostenuto is occasionally peppered by staccato. The highlight here is Lincoln Cleary’s restrained but swinging piano solo. Hughes on bass and Kunoss’ quarter notes on the ride cymbal swing along very efficiently behind solos by Cleary and Costantino.

Just when you think you understand this recording, Song for Ryan comes along. The quality and demeanor of the ensemble is much different here as indicated by the studio effects placed on the introduction. Costantino opts for the alto saxophone, rather than his familiar tenor. His sound on alto is rich and vibrant – bright, but not too much. The sound of the group is contemporary and more electric – likely by design. Synowiec and Cleary solo first before Costantino, but it seems as much an outlet for Kunoss on drums.

Things come full circle with the straight-ahead Bailout and Costantino’s return to tenor. Synowiec chooses a more classic guitar sound and Cleary moves to the acoustic piano for this hard driving up-tempo swing romp. For the first time, Costantino seems to let go and let it all hang out on this one. The unison and guitar and tenor head leaves us with a classic jazz quintet sound – one of the many settings achieved here on “Waltz for Anne.”

Rather than attempt to further describe the relative merits of Shawn Costantino or his group, I can simple say one thing: BUY THIS CD. You will consider it a purchase you will treasure for many listenings to come.

You can get this CD here .

ss