This is a very virile, dare I say, muscular, effort. A team of dedicated men working to leave it all on the studio floor to construct an album which superbly honors the old, embraces the new, and solidifies their future. It is hard, straight ahead jazz offering with heaps of no-frills kick-ass brass and stellar composition and arranging. It is the type of set-up – trumpets exclusively and rhythm section – that I haven’t heard in a very long while. It’s strong and reassuring stuff.
The performance here is fueled with palpable passion and drive. The playing across the board is not only technically outstanding, but, lathered up with energized focus and love for what this crew is doing. These are dangerous men. They mean business. These guys don’t play trumpets; they play flamethrowers. You’ll hear that throughout. Even the orphan’s cry, “Motherless Child” and the yearning “Never Let Me Go” have restrained emotional furor.
I’d go on record as stating that the average listener – and, for that matter, the fact you’re reading this places you far outside that category – approaches their music subject with significant passivity. In some cases, that renders the artists’ efforts as “background stimulus.” That’s not going to be the case here. You’re going to be drawn in to a jazz trap with little hope of escape and you won’t want to. You’re going to get a hard musical right hook, right to the chin and be musically KO’d. Enjoy looking at this skyscraper from your spot on the canvas.
A Minor Matter (8:59) —This near nine-minute kickoff is anything but. It’s a burner that shades classics “Milestones” and “Seven Steps to Heaven.” Count ’em: 1-2-3-4 … 7! – as formidable and virile a melodic line as it gets. The arrangement is superb, intelligent, and replete with surprise.
Shades of Blue (6:42) — A superbly elegant intro, rendered up rubato by pianist Tony Nalker, germinates into an up-tempo, highly-textured 3/4 piece that is reminiscent of the classic Oliver Nelson “Abstract Truth” sessions. Fraedrich’s solo dances across the upper register, setting up a screaming ensemble.
BugaBlue (7:56) — The ensemble screams the intro into a “throwback” melody that channels Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder.” It’s classic Hard Bop boogaloo blue. Tight and terrific.
Never Let Me Go (4:46) — The Fraedrich here eschews the dark and is big, bold and reminiscent of a classic brass-drenched Stan Kenton ballad. Fraedrich’s tone is inviting, sensitive and thoroughly honest. The up-tempo segment has the leader’s trumpet scampering over the changes with flair before the ballad format returns with the soloist embracing the ensemble’s final grasp.
RSVP (6:44) — You’re invited to see the gates open and hear these brass thoroughbreds speed off for miles on this Hard Bop modal message – actually a contrafact of jazz workhorse, “Invitation.” The ensemble offers contrapuntal lines while blazing on unfettered, the rhythm section whips ahead with drummer Steve Fidyk drawing Fourth of July fireworks from his set before all bring things to climax.
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child (6:55) — A penetrating “Where are you?” motif launches this haunting melody of abandonment and despair. The presentation is faithful throughout. The tempo is moderate faux-Latin but retains the grief tone of the original spiritual. Fraedrich’s lush flugel explores the melody and then rides on. The ensemble soli soars and Fidyk rages over the three-note figure. The arrangement builds to a dramatic end with Fraedrich’s flugel crying.
Giant Steps (6:16) — The Coltrane workhorse is one of those Everests that jazz artists fervently believe just has to be undertaken and conquered. Get the flags ready!
Missing You (5:00) — This very engaging Samba shades Booker Ervin’s “Saudade”/aka “Booker’s Bossa.” As the unit offers precision punches, Fraedrich flits and flies with trapeze-like grace, in total command improvisationally. Drummer Fidyk drives all hard and the momentum he creates is contagious.
I’ll See You on a B-Flat Blues! (5:53) — This is a “Fox Hunt” speedball of the first order – and what a cooker for the closer! Stop time breaks only add to the fever pitch of this game of tones. The ensemble is in heat throughout and the rhythm section gleefully throws gas on the two gassers. A “toot hoot,” for sure this one.
Nick Mondello, Big Toots Enterprises, Locust Valley, New York