Noah Haidu – Slipstream (2011)

Posi-Tone Records, the label that has done more than anyone else lately in putting out records by the brightest new talent in mainstream and modern jazz, introduced the pianist and composer Noah Haidu to the world last week. Slipstream went on sale March 22, a debut that doesn’t present mere potential, but an accomplished jazz ace making hard-bop in an accomplished manner.

Haidu didn’t get to this point by happenstance; like all jazz success stories, it’s the culmination of hard work. As sideman, Haidu has performed with a long list of jazz stars like Duane Eubanks, Michael Hawkins, Eddie Allen, Jeanie Bryson, Curtis Lundy are more. He’s also a member of the cooperative jazz group Native Soul, as well as the funk group One Nation, where he trades in his acoustic piano for electronic keyboards.

For his first time out as a leader, though, Haidu plays elastic hard bop, sometimes stretched creatively to the outer limits of genre by some crafty composing. For his classic sax/trumpet quintet, Haidu calls on the services of Chris Haney on bass, John Davis or Willie Jones III on drums, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and—surprise—the ubiquitous Jon Irabagon on alto sax. Admittedly, the presence of both Pelt and Irabagon is just as big of a draw to me as the leadership and compositions of Haidu. This is the modern-day equivalent of a classic Blue Note with Lee Morgan and Joe Henderson as sidemen on the record. As I soon discovered, though, having both these guys matched up with Haidu made it all the more better.

“Soulstep” is a crisp soul-jazz number in the proud tradition of Art Blakey but even for a relatively straightforward style, Haidu writes in some hiccups in the rhythms and unusual cadences on the thematic lines, a style of his found on several other of the seven Haidu originals performed on this record. It’s here we get to hear Pelt and Irabagon square off for the first time, and like true professionals, they set the tone by not turning this into a all-out blowing session that would quickly submerge the leader. Instead, the opt for some very tasty enunciations, with Pelt playing in a crisp Hubbard/Shaw fashion while Irabagon gently squeezes the juice out of every note. Haidu’s piano style is never too hot or too cold, just right. He recalls Horace Silver and at times, Sonny Clark, with some Hancock-isms emerging from time to time. He pulls the best attributes from all of them.

“Where We Are Right Now” (video below) follows, where Haidu’s fluid piano articulations take center stage over the horn players. “Slipstream” runs fast, sprinting up and down a flight of stairs, darting in and out and starting and stopping on a dime. Pelt brandishes his big, bop credentials on his solo run, Irabagon adopts a Jackie McLean attitude for his and Haidu mixes up single lines with double fisted block chords for his. “Break Tune” has a little bit of an organic, hip-hop beat paced by Haney’s start-stop bass. Pelt and Irabagon trade licks, simmering nicely but never going over the top, as Davis’ busy beat making raises the tension. “Float” is the only real ballad of the set, and this time, the horns sit out. Haidu handles the waltz with aplomb, finding non-repeating ideas as Davis slides in a multifaceted rhythm that keeps the tune humming along.

The one cover is Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things,” and Haidu shows some inventive interpretive skills, re-harmonizing the standard but leaving just enough of the original melody intact to recognize it. Again using the trio format, Haidu plays with the most fire for this number. The meter-shifting “The Trouble Makers” closes out the album with a blues walk and like most of this collection, a fine re-enactment of 60s jazz.

Noah Haidu makes an impressive first step with Slipstream, and although it doesn’t hurt of have two of jazz’s currently hottest horn players on his record, Haidu showed without any doubt that he belonged in that kind of company.

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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