Friday, September 4, 2015

3 Quintets

"Impetus" is the 3rd release (all Quintet albums) from trumpeter/composer David Smith and 2nd for BJU Records. Guitarist Nate Radley has been in the group since its inception in 2005 and is an excellent foil for the leader.  Filling out the ensemble is bassist Gary Wang (who's also featured on "Anticipation", Smith's 1st BJU disk), Dan Pratt (alto and tenor saxophones), and Anthony Pinciotti (drums).

Smith's compositions all have good, strong, melodies, and intelligent voicings (listen to the blend of trumpet, guitar and tenor sax on the opening and closing themes of "Bond") plus he leaves plenty of room for solos.  The insistent drive of "Starr St." is created by the rhythm section but pushed forward by the guitar  Radley provides a second solo voice with Pratt's tenor then goes into overdrive for the trumpet solo, his raucous chords provoking Pinciotti to drive harder. "Seven", which gets its harmony from a movement of Beethoven's "Seventh Symphony", reminds this listener of the driving rock tunes of John Lennon (especially "Happiness is a Warm Gun") - Smith's solo pulsates forward, pulling the rhythm section with him.  When he hands off the solo to Pratt, the intensity lessens for just a bit before picking up again. "The Toaster" burns, from the fiery rhythm section to the rapid-fire theme to the blistering trumpet solo and incendiary tenor spotlight.

The final track, "Intersection", opens with a sweet trumpet melody over bluesy guitar chords. Smith stays in front for over 5 minutes of the song (total time = 10:45) before giving way to a fine guitar solo.  Radley starts by playing chords before going into fast single-note runs yet always returns to chords. The trumpeter builds the intensity towards the climax, adding the saxophone to push forward over the hard-edged work of the rhythm section.

There's much to like on "Impetus", from the excellent compositions to the fine interactions of a working band. Everyone gets the opportunity to shine especially guitarist Nate Radley who is the lynchpin on the majority of the cuts.  Give David Smith a close listen, it's worth your time.

Here's the opening track:

David Smith also shows up on "Scenic Design", the second BJU recording for pianist and composer David Cook. He shares the front line with saxophonist and producer Ben Wendel while the rhythm section features the expert work of Matt Clohesy (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums).  Cook has served as musical director for vocalists such as Taylor Swift, Lizz Wright, Marianne Faithful and his wife Shayna Steele plus has played in the large ensembles of Alan Ferber, J.C. Sanford and Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra.  His 2010 BJU debut, "Pathway", was an impressive trio session that also featured bassist Clohesy in the rhythm section along with drummer Mark Ferber.

This program covers a wide swath of musical territory, from the trumpet/piano duo on Ms. Swift's "Safe and Sound" to the inspired reimagining of Jerome Kern's "Long Ago and Far Away" to the lovely ballad "I Know You Know" (co-written by and featuring Ms. Steele).  Cook is quite an expressive pianist, whether he's quietly playing the chords beneath Wendel's tenor sax on "Midwestern" (which has a lovely melody line) or stepping out in glorious fashion as he does on ""80s TV Theme Song", a piano-bass-drums workout that has splendid solos from everyone involved. Anyone who knows the work of Kendrick Scott knows the drummer rarely plays it safe. His high-powered drive on "Shift" and his easy-going yet subtly intense work on the title track makes those pieces stand out even more.  How he drives the opening "Flower and Hope" serves to free up the soloists and he goes on to make the interweaving solo lines of Cook and Wendel more exciting.
The final track, "Still", opens with a long solo piano statement (reminiscent of the work of Fred Hersch) - when the rhythm section and Wendel's alto saxophone enter, they join the pianist in the melody (note Clohesy's strong contribution) bringing the program to a gentle yet uplifting close.

After listening to "Scenic Design" a number of times, one continues to be impressed by how David Cook has arranged this music for this quintet. One can tell the musicians were emotionally invested in the music, giving the album an undeniable positive feel. Check out these sweet sounds.

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Here's the title track:

As I write this, Harris Eisenstadt is in the midst of a week-long residency (9/01-06) at The Stone in New York City in celebration of his 40th birthday and all the great music and ensembles he's created since first arriving on the scene a few years before the beginning of the 21st Century.  In the midst of the Big Apple week, Songlines Recordings has issued "Canada Day IV", featuring the drummer/composer's long-running quintet of Matt Bauder (tenor saxophone), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Chris Dingman (vibraphone) and newest member Pascal Niggenkemper (bass).

What you'll notice about this quintet music is that the composer puts great stock in melodies as well as creating smaller groups inside the ensemble.  And, there are times when the band is very playful.  Check out the interaction on "Let's Say It Comes In Waves" and how everyone is involved in moving the melody forward (even the drummer) - that does not change until the handsome trumpet solo but pay close attention how the rhythm section plays beneath that solo. Wooley enlivens "Life's Hurtling Passage Forward" with a raucous trumpet solo worthy of Lester Bowie and Taylor Ho Bynum then adds a mute to take the song out over Dingman's mesmerizing vibes.  The vibraphonist has such a full sound, does not swing in the manner of Jay Hoggard (his teacher at Wesleyan) or Gary Burton, yet his background work is integral to the success of this music.  His support beneath Niggenkemper's bowed bass at the start of "What's Equal To What" adds to the mystery of the piece, an alternative universe that does not waver until the drums enter and the bassist eases into a walking rhythm.  And the band knows how to let loose.  Dingman dances through his solo on the uptempo, Monk-like, "What Can Be Set To the Side"; the piece falls apart and takes on a circus-like atmosphere right near the end.  The closing track, "Meli Melo" (named for a Canadian snack mix), starts out quietly, just saxophone and vibes for the first 3 minutes before the sax drops out leaving Dingman to move the melody into the forefront. The bass and drums enter before the band plays a stop-and-go melody leading into an interchange of the saxophone and trumpet.

"Canada Day IV" continues a streak of impressive recordings for Harris Eisenstadt. His ability to write for disparate ensembles continues to grow (the residency includes music for his Canada Day Octet and a new piece for string quartet) and, while on paper this Quintet looks like typical "jazz" lineup, the music they play is anything but typical. Engaging, involving, and challenging, yes, but not typical.

For more information, go to

Here's a taste of this fine CD:

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