Peter Kenagy is a young trumpeter and composer, born in Seattle and based in Boston, who already has a lot to say on his first album. His original compositions explore areas that most jazz musicians don't seem drawn to. His tunes, like the relaxed "Nile," are spacious, letting in air and light. He also looks at a couple of vintage standards, cleverly recasting them.
"Dog Story" is one of the most satisfying performances here. Its theme is hip, the kind that pleasantly nestles in your ear. Its structure and open form somewhat recall Ornette Coleman, although the tempo change in the middle is pure Kenagy, enabling him to sandwich his free trumpet musings between hard-swinging saxophone solos. Then there's "AYG...," a recasting of "After You've Gone" into a meandering, stuttering bolero. "Whisps" is actually "Whispering," another classic standard. With those shifting accents on the head and solid, swinging solos, "Whisps" could be a "Groovin' High" for the 21st Century.
Of course, Little Machines is a lot more than just a series of unusually clever compositions and arrangements. It's also the thoughtful improvising by the horns. Kenagy seems less interested in bravura displays of chops than most younger players. He likes to play melodies, although always imbued with swing and considerable harmonic daring. He reminds me of both Tom Harrell and Don Cherry.
At times alto saxophonist Jeremy Udden sounds like he wants to play Ornette Coleman to Kenagy's Cherry. Hear, for example, his tonal manipulations on "Nile" or his jabbing lines on "Dog Story." Tenor saxophonist Jason Hunter is solid, with a clean, centered tone. While guitarist Adam Larrabee only solos once, his reverb-drenched comps are essential to this band's spacious sound. And finally, the excellent rhythm section adroitly negotiates everything its leader writes, giving this challenging music an added air of delight and accessibility.
Personnel: Peter Kenagy: trumpet; Jason Hunter: tenor saxophone; Jeremy Udden: alto saxophone;
Adam Larabee: guitar; Rick McLaughlin: bass; Jorge Perez-Albela: drums.