This review appears in the September 2014 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

noah garabendianNoah Garabedian
Big Butter and the Eggmen (BJU)

By David R. Adler

In giving his debut album the title Big Butter and the Eggmen, bassist Noah Garabedian alludes to a 1926 classic (“Big Butter and Egg Man”) by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five — the band that wrote the book on jazz ensemble intricacy and rhythmic vigor. Even if Garabedian’s music has little outwardly in common with early jazz, his sextet deals with concepts of polyphony, harmony and counterpoint that embody the best aspirations of jazz from its beginning.

Unlike Armstrong’s group, this one has no chordal instrument, and yet the blend and individual soloing skill of tenor saxophonists Kyle Wilson and Anna Webber, alto saxophonist Curtis Macdonald and trumpeter Kenny Warren give the session a bold and complex hue. The rhythm section role, too, is dynamic and flexible. Drummer Evan Hughes, like Garabedian himself, often articulates written parts with or against the horns and adds more compositional layers.

Save for the plaintive finale “Measurements,” beautifully adapted from singer-songwriter James Blake, the date is wholly original. It opens with the stately horn chorale “Gladstone,” briefly setting out what is to come on the far longer third track, “Also a Gladstone,” with its pulsing tom-tom motives, shifting tempos and clever soloing form. The swaying rubato and austere harmony of “Once We Saw a Blimp” harks back to the chamber-jazz feel of the “Gladstone” pieces — a nice shift to follow the rock-influenced and subtly avant-garde “Hippie Havoc.” The tango-like “Opposite Field Power,” with Macdonald’s lead alto framed by staccato repetitions from his fellow horns, creates an altogether different mood and model of interaction. Garabedian chooses this tune for his most sustained bass solo, showcasing his fluid technique and robust natural tone.