After years of noble scuffling as a jazz player’s player, Joe Henderson came up with a critically acclaimed hit album in 1992 — Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn — and suddenly became as famous as a saxist gets without assuming the presidency. Fellow tenor man Bill Clinton could have warned him, though, that now comes the hard part: following up the Record of the Year that made him the Artist of the Year with something that makes him more than last year’s news.
Henderson’s strategy is Same Thing, Only Different. Here, he pays tribute to another of jazz’s past masters, Miles Davis, performing a range of tunes associated with Miles from his very first release as a leader, ”Milestones,” to his early fusion experiments, ”Circle” and ”Side Car.”
As a portrait of a jazz artist as bold as Miles, this isn’t very representational: It takes all the vivid colors that made Miles’ music so arresting and mixes them into a wash of easy-to-take gray. But, with help from a small ensemble of Davis alumni — John Scofield on electric guitar, Dave Holland on bass, and Al Foster on drum — So Near, So Far does have the elegantly appealing sound that could make it another best-seller. B