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Geoff Lapp, the subject of last week’s JFASN, is a Canadian. By lucky coincidence, the subject of this week’s JFASN is a Canadian also. Bassist Neil Swainson was born on November 15, 1955 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Currently he resides in Toronto.

Swainson played with the Paul Horn band from 1975 to 1977, and has played with Sonny Stitt, Herb Ellis, Slide Hampton Rob McConnell, James Moody, Jay McShann, Tommy Flanagan. He has also played with George shearing and Woody Shaw, and did several tours of Europe with Shaw’s band.
“49th Parallel”, 1989 Concord Jazz
Swainson has appeared on dozens of albums as a backing musician, but the disk I want to tell you about today is, I believe, the only recording he has released under his own name. That is the 1989 Concord release, “49th Parallel”.
The stellar lineup of personnel for “49thParallel” are:
Neil Swainson, bass
Jerry Fuller, drums
Joe Henderson, saxophone
Woody Shaw, trumpet
Gary Williamson, piano
“49th Parallel” gives us six tracks. The first five are Swainson originals and the sixth is from saxophonist Henderson. The title track is up first, beginning with just Williamson and Fuller on a brief intro before the horns and Swainson join in. Henderson’s tenor sounds magnificent, and Shaw’s trumpet gets in more than a few good licks too. Swainson tackles his own solo with flying fingers and an intensity that are no easy trick on a stand up bass.
All-in-all, this is an animated piece that does what every first track is supposed to do: Grab our attention and prepare us for what is yet to come, without actually being predictable.
“Port Of Spain” starts right off with just a touch of Samba that it never quite loses entirely. Shaw dominates the drawn-out head, with runs almost a full minute. Swainson takes the lead momentarily before Shaw returns, to be followed by a nice run from Williams on piano. Shaw is the dominant force on this one, however, and he soon returns and stays to the end.
Next we have “Southern Exposure”. Everyone jumps in to give it a nice opening. Then Henderson takes the lead. There is something about the sound of a tenor sax that sends shivers down my spine, and in that regard Henderson is the shiver-master. Then Shaw steps forward for his solo, followed by Williamson on the piano.
I haven’t said much about Fuller on the drums. Throughout all of the action, he is there, building the foundation the others need to stand on. My attention is always drawn to the crisp “ting-ta-ting, ting-ta-ting!” of the ride cymbal. I don’t know why it always grabs me, but it does. Needless to say, Fuller gets my attention, often!
“On The Lam” is up next. To me, on the lam means a getaway, running from the law or something like that. Shaw and Williamson do take us on a journey that is always moving, if at first it is not quite as frenetic as the title might indicate. The pace does pick up though, and Shaw once again dominates during his solos, and Williamson’s piano has a touch of the bombastic before the build up to the end.
The penultimate song is “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, a title which certainly brings to mind a few questions. It turns out to be a quiet little ballad, relaxing and, simply, nice. Henderson kicks it off with a beautiful bit of mellow blowing that brings to mind the winding down of a late night session, after almost everyone has gone and it’s just the musicians getting ready to wrap it up for the evening. Everyone except Shaw has a hand in this one, Williamson in particular has a warm solo, and for a time he and Henderson have a nice musical give and take. But “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is definitely Henderson’s baby all the way through.
Finally we get to “Homestretch”, Henderson’s one compositional contribution. Fuller jumps right out of the starting gate with a quick pace, and is soon joined by the entire group. This song has some quite interesting moments, and is anything but predictable. Despite that it retains a rich, melodic core that will appeal to just about any jazz lover. “Homestretch” has a nice, quick pace and gives everyone a chance to shine.
Neil Swainson’s album, “49thParallel”, was recorded in May 1987, and was Woody Shaw’s last recording. He died almost exactly two years later on May 10, 1989. When the album was released Swainson dedicated it to the memory of the legendary trumpeter. That was only fitting since he clearly dominated almost every song he was on.
I was not able to find any videos featuring this group, although there are quite a few featuring Swainson playing with some of his more well-known acquaintances. Here is a video of him along with Joe Farrell and the Woody Shaw Quintet.
Part 1:
And part 2:
Writing on the allmusic.com web site, reviewer Scott Yanow said of “49th Parallel”, “Overall, this is an under-rated, high-quality advanced hard bop date worth exploring.”
Needless to say, I agree wholeheartedly. And I am certain that you will find Neil Swainson’s “49thParallel” to be a fantastic addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
You can learn more about Neil Swainson and his music hereand here.
Finding a copy of “49th Parallel” may not be easy, but I guarantee that you will find it worth the effort!     
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Copyright © 2012 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.