Robert Hurst – BoB, A Palindrome (2013)

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Around the same time Robert Hurst recorded the trio document Unrehurst, Vol. 1 with Robert Glasper (piano) and Damion Reid (drums), the bassist/composer and bandleader had convened a sort of summit meeting of some of the best and brightest jazz musicians from two or three generations for another kind of recording session. In addition to Glasper, Hurst called in a couple of old bandmates from Wynton Marsalis and Branford Marsalis’ bands, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (drums) and Branford himself (saxes). Marcus Belgrave, who had appeared on prior Hurst records, again lent his trumpet and flugelhorn, Adam Rudolph contributed percussion and the great Bennie Maupin brought his alto flute, bass clarinet, tenor & soprano saxophones. The sessions were taped in October of 2001, but Hurst got too busy to finish the process and see it through release. Next week, this memento from that special meeting will finally see its day in the sun as BoB, A Palindrome.

Palindrome confirms what’s already apparent from Unrehurst, both volumes, and the contemporary experimental Bob Ya Head, which is that Hurst has a reach and musical conception that can match those of his more celebrated mentors and peers. The discovery of this record really has more to do with him putting together a program of varied songs and arrangements that capitalizes on the array of talent at his disposal.

With this seven-piece band, Hurst is able to split the difference between a proficient small ensemble and a fuller, formal large band. The layered, intelligent arrangements worthy of a jazz orchestra manifests itself on the bouncy, waltzing “3 For Lawrence,” the sophisticated harmonic development of the smooth “Little Queen,” and especially the three part, “Middle Passage Suite,” which is somewhat remindful of Duke Ellington, George Russell and Gil Evans in its grandeur and imagination. Other times, the band sounds smaller: “Picked From Nick,” with Glasper on Rhodes, has that early 70s CTI groove, while “Big Queen” is a samba but with interesting chord progressions not often heard in Brazilian music.

The performances, as one can imagine from this bunch, are consistently exemplary. The budding talent Glasper was already displaying much maturity with a crisp piano solo on “Tigers On Venus” and a Rhodes solo on “Little Queen” that’s cool, reserved, and lets the notes resonate like an experienced pro. The under noticed Belgrave puts in some articulate solos especially on flugelhorn in several spots, while Maupin and Marsalis are often explosive. The peak moment comes during Part III of the “Middle Passage Suite” when the two are engaged in a soprano/tenor epic sax battle pushed along by Watts’ unbelievable polyrhythms. This album ends on a relaxed note, with the head-less funk vamp “Jamming – A.K.A. Ichabad” where everyone seems to be improvising at once but in an orderly fashion.

To top it all off, that sessions were superbly recorded and mixed. Hurst’s bass is prominent but never overbearing, and when the horns combine, they make a sweet, unified sound. It’s a surprise that Hurst didn’t prepare these recordings for release much sooner, even accounting for the fact that today’s jazz superstar Glasper was unknown back then, but the effort and time put into post-production made what was probably already a fine record even better, and well worth the wait.

BoB, A Palindrome will drop on March 12, by Bebob Records.

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