Outset – Outset (2016)

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Back in 2012, Dan Meinhardt was a promising young tenor sax player fresh out of graduate school looking to make his mark in the jazz world. The debut album that heralded the start of his post-grad career left little doubt “that whatever direction he takes from here, he’s likely to be successful at it.”

Four years after Gone West, Meinhardt is ready to unveil his bold new direction with the self-titled debut release by his new, Chicago-based quartet Outset (going on sale August 26, 2016 through ears&eyes Records). Whereby that album presented Meinhardt’s grasp of a range of styles within the fusion and straight jazz zones, Outset keeps it all acoustic and non-chordal. It’s a challenge that he’s greeted as an opportunity to expand his vocabulary and he’s taken full advantage of it. Accompanying Meinhardt on his current venture is Justin Copeland (trumpet, flugelhorn), Andrew Green (drums) and Meinhardt’s childhood friend Tim Ipsen (bass).

Live tracked at Chicago’s Locallective studio, the four use moxie and creativity to make the harmonics of Meinhardt’s compositions complex and complete, even if the appeal of them is simple. For instance, the loose hanging blues of “Gooby,” where Meinhardt and Copeland deliver the melody so fully, you will not notice the absence of piano one whit. “Wayneish” ends the album much as it began with “Gooby,” with a loosely swinging blues-based tune. Here as elsewhere we hear Meinhardt’s pleasantly mellow poise on sax, and Copeland brings forth the same attitude.

The two horn men never get overheated, avoiding an egregious parading of chops, preferring to make sweet sounds that articulate the melody, while much of the energy comes from the rhythm section. In fact, Outset’s ability to stretch far and not overextend is probably best demonstrated on “Dropped,” where Ipsen works overtime to anchor down the song’s shape and the remaining three go in and out of it as they please. The bass line darts around elusively on “Points For Trying” as Meinhardt and Copeland playfully chase it around.

Outset’s astute avoidance of clutter and unnecessary noise serves the music well, and yet they find ample space for finesse. Copeland’s trumpet shows real originality on “Bixotic,” as Meinhardt blows a tone with depth and both are able to easily negotiate Green’s tense, irregular beats. Outset takes the same angular approach to Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” as they do to their own originals, using rhythms and bass lines to fashion an ambling swing that serves as a springboard for soulful, naturally flowing solos by Meinhardt and Copeland.

Dan Meinhardt clearly took his time to make his next move, and Outset didn’t just materialize suddenly, this simpatico was honed over several years before they felt the time was right to present it to the world. That’s why Outset is a laudable debut not of what is possible down the road but what is achieved right out of the gate.

From the outset.

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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