From the December 2012 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt’s quintet, arguably one of the strongest working bands in jazz, has held together long enough to record four albums: November, Men of Honor, The Talented Mr. Pelt and this year’s Soul. There were new faces onstage, however, when Pelt arrived for a special birthday engagement at Smoke (November 11). Pianist Danny Grissett and bassist Dwayne Burno remained in place, bringing characteristic depth and poise to Pelt’s original material. On tenor sax, in JD Allen’s stead, was the inspired Roxy Coss, whose slow-burning and methodical approach paired well with Pelt’s more incendiary solos. Jonathan Barber, occupying Gerald Cleaver’s spot on drums, swung without inhibition and did much to enhance the music’s wide dynamic range. Having begun the second set with the intricate “Dreamcatcher,” Pelt transitioned immediately to Myron Walden’s slow and dreamlike “Pulse,” which elicited bluesy, carefully placed phrases from the leader at maximum volume — as if he were shouting to the streets just outside. On “Second Love,” the most straightforwardly lyrical piece, Pelt was subdued yet just as pointedly expressive. He put Barber in the spotlight after a full rotation of solos on the animated “Milo Hayward,” and closed with “What’s Wrong Is Right,” a forceful midtempo blues with no chordal backing (Grissett soloed with only his right hand). The pacing of the set was superb — Pelt knew exactly what he wanted, and his band was right there to do it. (David R. Adler)
Dormant for years, the Jazz Composers Collective reunited for a festival at Jazz Standard and closed out the week with the remarkable Herbie Nichols Project (November 11). This sextet’s sole purpose is to showcase the lost music of pianist/composer Nichols, one of jazz’s unheralded geniuses. To that end, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Ben Allison and cohorts opened with “Wildflower,” encored with “Spinning Song” and got loose mid-set over the blazing tempo of “Crisp Day/Blue Chopsticks” — all from the band’s 1996 debut Love Is Proximity. Since then, however, there’s been a startling development: an old trunk containing manuscripts for over 160 Nichols compositions, long rumored lost in a flood, was recently located. The pieces range from the late ’50s to the early ’60s (Nichols died in 1963). “Tell the Birds I Said Hello,” the second tune of the set, was from this lost batch, and it found Michael Blake pondering a simple lyrical melody on soprano sax before yielding to solos from Kimbrough and trumpeter Ron Horton. “Games and Codes,” with Blake and Ted Nash on tenors, was a doleful ballad with laid-back swing passages and tight orchestration. “Blues No. 1” also featured dual tenors up front and a go-for-broke bass solo from Allison as the main focus. “Van Allen Belt,” a showstopper, inspired a fierce outpouring from Nash on alto. While Nichols’ tunes were nothing short of a revelation, the band’s interpretive prowess at every step was equally a thing of beauty. (DA)