Quickies: Four More From Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records

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by S. Victor Aaron

Last year we spotlighted a trio of CD’s that made up the maiden releases by a new record label, the artist-run collective Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records. A year later last June, there were three more BJU records to examine. And here we are less than six months after that, and there are now four more new releases by this fast-emerging startup record company.

Talk about getting up to speed.

As before, this quartet of records are by artists who are up-and-comers with independent streaks. They may be at the front end of their careers, but have already forged their own path and are doing it their way. They have done the woodshedding, so being unconventional doesn’t become synonymous with being incompetent. Beyond those characteristics, there’s not much else in common among these four idiosyncratic acts.

Speaking of “acts”…



ACT Act

ACT is a collaboration of some sought-after multi-instrumentalists: saxophonist/basoonist Ben Wendel (Ignacio Berroa, Snoop Dogg), bass player Harish Raghavan (Mark Turner, Aaron Parks, Vijay Iyer), and drummer Nate Wood (Chaka Khan, Wayne Krantz, Taylor Eigsti). ACT provides outlet for the three to stretch out in a trio format.

Wendel ponied up half of the eight compositions, Raghavan tossed in a couple more, and two more are covers. The songs are all in the post-bop arena, although a few of them push the boundaries, like the hot “News,” the angular “Act” and an inspired version of Sonny Rollins’ old classic “Pentup House.” Raghaven’s poetic acoustic bass brings Elvis Costello’s “Shamed Into Love” to life, and Wood’s restless kit work propel Raghavan’s composition “Title.”

Although the trio just got down to business and played when the tape rolled, not all the tracks were recorded straight up live; Wendel dubs in his bassoon and a piano to bolster the harmony on “What Was,” while his alto sax cascades and caresses the notes. Wendel also adds bassoon accents to his sax lead on “Oldworld,” a pensive piece where all three are contributing equally well. Act makes a fine showcase for the talents of the three members, who are all secure enough in their own abilities to not turn this into a overblown wailing session, even though the chordless format offers the temptation to do so. They get the job done with well-conceived songs, arrangements and playing with a innate sense of what sounds right, not of what sounds difficult. It makes their self-titled record an easier listen than most sax-bass-drum records.

Andy Cotton Last Stand At The Havemeyer Ranch

Andy Cotton is a bassist who can compose, produce and lead a band. All of those skills come in handy for the making of Last Stand At The Havemeyer Ranch, an undertaking involving sixteen musicians that took on the spirit of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew sessions. That is to say, let the tape roll, the musicians play, and sort it all out later in the mixing and editing stages.

It’s a devil-may-care approach that almost guarantees unpredictable results. In the case of Havemeyer Ranch, those results are mixed. When the record changes up and combines styles, it works, from the shuffling acid-jazz vibe of “Redux” to an Appalachian flavor for “Ouagadougou.” On the other hand, sometimes-monotonous reggae grooves make up four of the six tunes. A promising soul number “Don’t Let It Get To You” with some really good lead vocals supplied by Chauncey Yearwood inexplicitly cuts off at the 2:15 mark, just as the song was getting going. Still, you gotta like Cotton’s moxie.

Cotton the bass player doesn’t really come to the fore until the last number, a sweetly swaying country-jazz piece “Macallan’s Waltz,” displaying the discernment of a bassist who has once studied under Reggie Workman. So Last Stand At The Havemeyer Ranch might be a bit of a mixed bag, but if for those with a penchant for reggae and like it with a generous smattering of other idioms on the side, this record should work.

Rob Garcia 4 Perennial

Rob Garcia is a little bit like Brian Blade in that he’s top shelf sideman drummer for some huge names in jazz (Wynton Marsalis, Chris Potter, Joe Lovano, Diana Krall), but when it comes to leading his own ensemble, his composing and band leading comes before his world-class drumming. The Rob Garcia 4 is an advanced bop outfit that includes Dan Tepfer on piano, Noah Preminger on tenor sax and Chris Lightcap on bass. For Garcia’s third release Perennial,
all of these guys follow Garcia’s vision of jazz that’s in the sympathetic service of the songs, all but one written by the leader.

“Joe-Pye Weed” begins the set of ten selections, a light and whimsical tune played in 3/4 time keyed by a snappy sax/piano unison line in the chorus. Later on, Garcia launches into a delicate drum solo and come to think of it, I don’t recall many drum solos on waltzes (aside from Joe Morello’s unforgettable one on Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”). Nonetheless, this record is more about Garcia’s own compositions and his band’s intelligent rendering of them. Most stay in the mid-tempo range. “A Flower For Diana” is a seductive mood piece that perhaps best reveals the spiritual depth of Garcia’s composing abilities. As the only non-original, the old standby “Cherokee” is reconfigured to sound much like a Rob Garcia song, with a nimble, shuffling 13/8 rhythm underneath.

It’s hard to find any fault with Perennial, a well-conceived, well-designed effort that can be appreciated for both the songs and the way they are delivered.

Randy Ingram The Road Ahead

Randy Ingram is a pianist with a foot locker full of achievements, such as the 2007 winner of the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s award, scholarships to USC and the New England Conservatory, studying under Billy Higgins, Joe LaBarbera, Danilo Perez, and performing with Joel Frahm, Ben Monder and Kendrick Scott. Armed with these credentials, Ingram came well prepared into the studio last spring to record his first album, The Road Ahead, bringing along with him Matt Clohesy (bass), Jochen Rueckert (drums) and John Ellis (tenor and soprano saxophones).

With a piano/bass/sax/drums combination, advanced compositions and mostly subdued tempos, the resulting The Road Ahead shares much of the same appeal as Rob Garcia 4’s Perennial album just mentioned above. But Ingram’s love of major rock bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin seeps into his consciousness when composing, even covering a Beatles song “For No One” but rearranging it in such a way that he makes it completely his own. The opener “Rock Song #3” was inspired by Zep, and although it’s much jazzier than anything that band had ever attempted, the building chorus at the end projects all the energy of a hard rock group, especially Rueckert’s voluminous drumming. “Dream Song” is a lyrical, blues-inflected song that is clearly influenced by Ingram’s deep appreciation for the unique harmonic structure of Wayne Shorter tunes. Ingram’s vast interpretive skills comes to the fore again in the last track, Thelonius Monk’s “Think Of One,” remaking it into a very modern-sounding song.

Fred Hersch, one of the top dogs among jazz pianists today (and another heavyweight Ingram has studied with), states that Ingram “plays with finesse, thoughtfulness and passion.” After listening to the solidThe Road Ahead, it would be impossible to conclude any differently.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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