Eric Nemeyer, who edits Jazz Improv,
a superlative quarterly magazine for which I've written a number of reviews, is also a musician (vibraphone division) and sent this album as a thank-you, entirely for my own listening pleasure. Surely he didn't think he'd make a clean getaway without braving a review of some sort...
First of all, listening to Blessing in Disguise really is a pleasure, as the music therein is exactly as I like it'solid, shapely, straight-ahead and invariably swinging. Nemeyer's core group consists of himself, organist Tony Monaco, guitarists Mark Elf or Curtis Weaver, and drummer Byron Landham, with saxophonist Donny McCaslin and trumpeter Valery Ponomarev enlarging the quartet to a sextet on four numbers ('Blessing,' 'Milestones,' 'Short & Sassy,' 'The Rest Is History').
Three of those tunes are Nemeyer's, as are 'Bananas & Cream,' 'Welcome Home,' 'The Real World' and 'Enlarged to Show Texture,' and each one is extremely melodic and thoroughly charming. Rounding out the program are the aforementioned 'Milestones,' Bernard Peiffer's 'Manege,' Benny Golson's 'Stablemates' and the standards 'Bye Bye Blackbird' and 'It Could Happen to You.' Nemeyer unleashes the full arsenal on the ballad 'Welcome Home,' which he performs by himself with no safety net. Also, it should be noted that 'Milestones,' marked '#1,' isn't the familiar theme to which most fans of Miles Davis have become accustomed but is no less agreeable than that one.
I'd not heard much of McCaslin, but he is quite impressive on soprano or tenor, while Ponomarev is a stylish post-bopper of the highest order. As for Nemeyer, he's good enough to take his day job and shove it, which he won't do, as editing JI must be almost as rewarding as jamming with friends, as he is doing here. There are no more than a handful of world-class vibists working todayBobby Hutcherson, Joe Locke, Gary Burton, Stefon Harris, Steve Nelson, Charlie Shoemake, the veteran Terry Gibbs come to mind'and Nemeyer is clearly in that league.
On Blessing in Disguise, everyone is in sync, the music is captivating, the sound bright and well-balanced, the playing time generous, the listening experience thoroughly enjoyable. Sorry, Eric; I had to scribble a few words about the album. That's what we writers do.
Track Listing: It Could Happen to You; Manege; Blessing in Disguise; Bananas & Cream; Welcome Home; Milestones #1; Bye Bye Blackbird; The Real World; Short & Sassy; The Rest Is History; Enlarged to Show Texture; Stablemates (75:47).
Personnel: Eric Nemeyer, vibes; Tony Monaco, Hammond B-3 organ; Donny McCaslin (3, 6, 9, 10), tenor, soprano sax; Valery Ponomarev (3, 6, 9, 10), trumpet, flugelhorn; Mark Elf, Curtis Weaver (7, 8, 11), guitar; Byron Landham, drums.