The Return of the Prodigal Son (Blue Note 17462)
There are many saxophonists I probably admire more than Stanley Turrentine, but few I so enjoy with almost no exception. This guy could walk into any session and just blow his happy horn, and no matter what hijinks or tomfoolery anyone else in the room might be up to, you could still hear his conviction and feel that signature sound.
The Return of the Prodigal Son is one of those vaguely misleading Blue Note discs that was never actually released at the time, though it has been made to look like any of the classics of that era. Which is not to say the music is sub-par at all; in fact, I'm sure within a few years of this 1967 session, Alfred Lion sorely wished he was still getting recordings of this caliber out of the BN roster.
At the same time, it's not hard to see why this stuff was shelved. Aside from the title track (which wades in the "Wade in the Water" water, brilliantly), most of the tracks sound either like outtakes from The Spoiler (one of T's large-band classics) or just obligatory soul covers ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Dr. Feelgood"), as was the mode of the day.
But as I suggested earlier, Turrentine really never laid down a note he didn't mean. So when he plays "The Look of Love," it's his "The Look of Love." And for the record, his is one of my favorites of the two-billion-and-counting covers of that ol' chestnut.
If it errs on the side of boring, Prodigal Son is still a stronger set than, say, your typical Blue Note in 2009. It's the same principle that makes outtakes from Uh-Huh seem far more appealing than a new John Mellencamp album. Wait, that's not at all the same principle. But sort of?!
It's a testament to Turrentine that you can drag pretty much any old thing out of the vault and still hear him clear as a bell, just playin'. Sure, Coltrane was more spiritual, but come on now, even God likes to just groove from time to time.
Review by Senseney Calamare