The Paris-based American jazz bassist with a Hollywood pedigree is at a comfortable spot in his mid-forties, having settled into the unity, continuity and comfort of making records with a working band. The View From Here builds on the satisfaction Eastwood got from making 2011′s Songs From the Chateau, writing music with his bandmates while on tour and then going into the studio with them, put the finishing touches to the songs and record these compositions together in the spirit of cooperation. Eastwood brought the same guys from London for this album as he did for the last one, save for Quentin Collins replacing Graeme Flowers at trumpet. Saxophonist Graeme Blevins, drummer Martyn Kaine and pianist Andrew McCormack are back again to keep the Chateau vibe going.
Eastwood’s conception of jazz lately has remained contemporary but eschewing any trendy stuff, often coming right up to the precipice of fusion but never crossing over. The principles underlying the music come from the classic soul jazz and hard bop jazz of the 50s and 60s, but this young crew infuses a fresh attitude into it. Collins and Blevins shape the thematic lines — usually before peeling off into solos — as Eastwood and McCormack supply harmonic counterpoints and Kaine doesn’t just provide the rhythms, he shapes it around the melody.
There’s the variation from song to song to fight off any feeling of sameness, with the leader even switching between electric and acoustic bass to adapt to the vibes of the tunes. “From Rio To Havana” is as advertised a Latin leaning tune, but with a modern appeal. “Song For M.E.,” like many of the cuts, has a memorable, soulful theme delivered by the front line horns, in this case bearing a strong resemblance to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Eastwood undertakes a nimble, high register electric bass solo. Kaine and Eastwood forge a slick groove behind “The View From Here,” and McCormack solos right in that pocket. “Luxor” is a peaceful song, accentuated by extended notes from Blevins and Collins, as Eastwood adds detail to harmony from behind front line. “Route de la Buissonne” is a funky, loose rhythm mildly evocative of the Big Easy, and Eastwood’s standup bass stays easygoing and relaxed to set the tone for the song.
The Mediterranean and North African music scene in Paris has gotten Eastwood’s attention and he’s reflected that in “Sirocco, ” which showcases the combo’s ability to move effortlessly between two tempos. A West African groove defines “Une nuit au Sénégal” and it’s reflected in Eastwood’s electric bass and McCormack’s percussive piano just as much as Kaine’s drums. This is one of their more festive tunes, complete with a delightful call and response moment between the horns. The 6/8 metered “The Way Home” has a melodic development that’s perhaps more subtly influenced by African music, but it’s Blevins’ show stealing sax soloing that grabs most of the attention.
Collins, it should be said, is not an insignificant line-up change. He can really project on his trumpet, with Freddie Hubbard-like control; check his natty runs on “Rio,” his lilting flugelhorn solo on “Sirocco,” or the highly expressive turn he takes on “Luxor.” He makes a great counterpart to the soulful and measured Blevins.
At what is presumably the midpoint of his career, Eastwood has found his groove, with jazz that might not push out to the frontiers but is damn near impossible to not like. He and his crew inject enough wrinkles and diversification to provide depth, but not so much as to leave fans of contemporary jazz behind. It’s that balance that can gain wider appeal with no compromises made. The group effort approach has certainly paid off.
The View From Here is poised for release on March 12, by Jazz Village Records.
Feature photo credit: Jean Baptiste-Millot