This review appears in the March 2012 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.
By David R. Adler
If working bands are a rarity in jazz today, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt seems not to have gotten the memo. Soul is his fourth album to feature the same steady quintet lineup, with JD Allen on tenor, Danny Grissett on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. (The first, November, released by MaxJazz in 2008, was soon followed by the HighNote discs Men of Honor and The Talented Mr. Pelt.)
Rooted in an expansive, fiercely swinging, darkly hued sound reminiscent of Miles Davis’s mid-’60s quintet, Pelt’s group still has its own identity, and how could it not? These are leading players of our day, genuine personalities with bands of their own, and as a unit they have a way of reaching beyond themselves. Soul is their first collection devoted mainly (but not wholly) to ballads.
One could say that Soul burns at a lower temperature than Pelt’s previous efforts, but it burns nonetheless. The program, once again, is mostly original, although the quintet reworks George Cables’s “Sweet Rita Suite,” a waltz with an alluring piano/bass intro and a fine muted-trumpet turn from the leader. “Moondrift,” a lesser-known Sammy Cahn tune with a shining guest vocal by Philadelphia’s Joanna Pascale, is concise and perfectly placed, a gratifying departure.
The six remaining titles are Pelt’s, and they’re beautifully done. “Second Love,” the opener, is deeply meditative, a model of harmonic subtlety. The closing “Tonight…”, featuring Pelt in quartet mode without Allen, has a gentle but persistent rolling tempo anchored by Cleaver on mallets. While the music is horn-driven to a large extent, Grissett dominates “The Ballad of Ichabod Crane” and solos first on both “The Story” and “The Tempest,” putting the front line on notice. He’s the band’s not-so-secret weapon.
With “The Tempest” and “What’s Wrong Is Right,” Pelt stirs it up and brings Soul out of the ballad realm. The former slips between agitated 6/8 and 4/4, recalling a type of heightened rhythmic ambiguity once heard from Tony Williams. The latter is a strutting midtempo blues with no chords — Grissett doesn’t comp at all behind Pelt or Allen and then solos with his right hand exclusively. It’s an open-ended concept that harks back to Miles Smiles, and it moves the album deeper into uncharted waters.