Roxy Coss – Chasing The Unicorn (2017)

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feature photo: Anna Yatskevich

In 2011, Roxy Coss’s self-titled debut made a big impression on us, big enough to easily earn a spot on our list of best mainstream jazz albums for that year. Six years on, she’s poised to come out with her third album and her first for Posi-Tone Records. Chasing The Unicorn (on sale March 31 ,2017), and the saxophonist, composer and bandleader is still impressing.

Coss this time dispenses with a trumpet foil, comfortable in engaging in counterpoint when needed with her guitarist (once again) Alex Wintz, and sometimes overdubbing reeds. Glenn Zaleski is on board for this go around on piano along with his erstwhile partner on bass Rick Rosato. Jimmy Macbride handles drums.

Chasing The Unicorn is, above all, sophisticated modern jazz with a contemporary flair but also a firm connection back to the fundamentals of swing. Coss’s original “Never Enough” is one of the best examples of these principles, a song that pushes hard with rhythm change-ups, harmonic adventurism and a few sonic surprises. But it also bops hard at times.

Coss wrote five other originals and they all offer some sort of intrigue, style and, of course, prime musicianship. She layers in several saxes led by soprano to add a complex texture to “Chasing The Unicorn” and spelled by Wintz’s appealing single line guitar notes in the break. “You’re There” builds on a Brazilian stride, Coss’s tenor soulfully dancing over it in one of her strongest sax performances. The countervailing harmonic components between Coss, Wintz and Zaleski come together in such close affinity on “Free To Be.” “Unwavering Optimism” waltzes busily but breezily and Coss again puts forth a satisfying tenor sax run. And “Endless Cycle” has a lot of modernized touches, including a funk-filled bridge where Coss gets in the pocket with her soprano sax.

Coss’s choice of covers shows a lot of imagination. For instance, the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” probably hadn’t been covered much within the jazz realm but she makes a solid case for why it should be. It’s blues-based, after all, and Coss not only exploits that for a jazz context, she reharmonizes it as well. Coss takes on Wayne Shorter’s “Virgo” with a pensive bass clarinet, digging deeper into this beautifully empyrean melody. Joe Henderson’s “A Shade of Jade” is one of his trademark Lydian scale-based tunes, using unique composing concepts that often seemed to go hand-in-hand with his advanced but soulful saxophone style. Given her own approach, Coss is unsurprisingly drawn to that and Wintz and Zaleski lend stout solos on their turns.

“Benny’s Tune” is slowed down a bit but in doing so uncovers the rich complexity of Lionel Louke’s song, and Louke’s guitar line played on Coss’ bass clarinet is a thoughtful and natural recasting of this modern-day standard. Meantime, her sax just sings over it. And finally, Willie Nelson’s lazy lounge swing number “Crazy” is undertaken with appropriately understated tastefulness, capped off by Wintz’s Euro-jazz gypsy guitar.

Roxy Coss’s grasp on the intricacies of jazz was there from the start, but she’s clearly consolidated her understanding since her remarkable debut. She shines brightly on Chasing The Unicorn because she shines in so many areas.


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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