Most people may be unfamiliar with Lenny Pickett’s name, but millions have heard his tenor saxophone soaring into the stratosphere during Saturday Night Live‘s bluesy closing theme, “A Waltz in ‘A.'” The Berkeley High dropout and onetime Tower of Power member has been prolific for more than four decades — recording with Elton John, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Talking Heads, and Katy Perry, among many others — but his new album, The Prescription, is only the second release under his own name. Cut two years ago in Helsinki, with the nineteen-member UMO Jazz Orchestra, the disc presents Pickett in a jazzier context than usual, although blues and funk frequently come to the fore.
The saxophonist’s spectacular command of the tenor’s altissimo register, achieved through a combination of “false fingering” and “over-blowing,” is unparalleled. It can be heard throughout most of the CD, from the opening “A Waltz in ‘A'”-like “Busted Again” to the blistering instrumental treatment of closer “What Is Hip?,” a Tower of Power classic. He charges with hard-bopping aplomb over the UMO rhythm section’s breakneck tempo on “The Big Wiggle,” one of eight Pickett originals in the ten-tune set, and his gently percussive approach to E-flat clarinet on two other tracks is also highly distinctive. Richly textured charts for the orchestra’s thirteen horns by Pickett and conductor Rich Shemaria further heighten the saxophonist’s virtuosic intensity. (Random Act Records)