The musicians with years of big band experience always seem to be able to put together sharp-sounding smaller ensembles. Trumpeter/flugelhornist Michael Hackettwho has appeared with the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, the Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestra, and is currently a member of the Buselli/Wallrab Jazz Orchestraputs together a first rate sextet for his debut as leader, Circles, resulting in a fresh and vibrant take on mainstream jazz.
The three horn (trumpet/sax/trombone) front line isn't as common as it once wasthink of John Coltrane's Blue Train but in Hackett's hands, with his arrangements, the sound has a very melodic, mainstream feel.
Five of the eight tunes are Hackett originals, and his is an engagingly lyrical voice as a tunesmith and horn man, bringing some of his influences (Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw) to mind, on a start-to-finish inspired effort that prominently features pianist Mike Holober (notable for his own Canyons and Thought Trains, released in '03 and '04, respectively, by Sons of Sound) fronting a wonderfully elastic rhythm section with his slightly unorthodox and colorful, but never distracting approach to accompaniment.
On this all-around excellent set, the thirteen-minute title tune stands out, with a Maria Schneider-esque feeling of liquid movement; and "Even As We Speak," with Hackett using the mute, is full of soft tones shading an introspective song that features a gorgeously understated rhythm section interlude.
First rate and forward-looking straight through, Circles closes out on a perfect note with "Never Let Me Go," a hit for Nat King Cole, wrapping up the set on an intimate straight-ahead rendering of the familiar melody by Hackett, while Holober splashes bits of bright color behind him.