Having developed a select roster of artists such as Brian Lynch, David Hazeltine, and Dena DeRose, Sharp Nine Records owner/producer Marc Edelman has turned his attention to some newcomers on the New York City jazz scene. To his credit, Edelman is not touting the youthful sextet, dubbed the Sharp Nine Class of 2001, or any of its individual members as the “next big thing.” Confident that the music can speak for itself, he’s content to simply document a group of promising players in the straight-ahead tradition at the nascent stage of their careers.
On The Loose opens with an up-tempo version of Dexter Gordon’s “I Want More” that is bursting with energy. While bassist Brandon Owens maintains a steady pulse and outlines chord changes, E.J. Strickland is free to drum a fusillade of accents on his snare, impatiently projecting rhythmic stratagems without gumming up the works. Alto saxophonist Julius Tolentino begins somewhat tentatively, but quickly does an about face. His bebop-oriented coils of sound are all the more satisfying for being interrupted by occasional passionate cries in the upper register. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt (remember the name) has a full, clean tone and an attitude to match his prodigious technique. He’s cocky, assertive to the point of nearly commanding the rhythm section, and just when you think a pause is imminent, the fireworks continue. While Strickland adds persistent jabs on a partially closed hi-hat to his repertoire, pianist Jeb Patton’s tenacious single note lines and chordal passages both ward off and work with the incessant clamor. Exchanging eights with the others, the drummer often sounds as if he’s frantically trying to go in three directions at once, all the while keeping some semblance of order.
The band’s treatment of Reuben Brown's “Billie” exudes a spirit of youthful optimism and makes a fine medium for blowing. Pelt takes it easy during his first chorus, exhibiting sweet sounding melodic invention at a subdued volume, then digs in with sequences of inventively accented eighth-note runs. On Tolentino’s best turn of the set, there is a nice contrast between his penetrating tone and the unruffled manner in which he structures the solo, staying consistent in his approach even as Strickland drums up a storm behind him. Tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland (E.J.’s brother) initially dodges the rhythm section before becoming decisive, lengthening his lines and exhibiting impressive control of the horn from top to bottom. Patton, a semi-finalist in the recent Great American Jazz Piano Competition, starts with variations of a five-note phrase that skips over the pulse, and continues in this vein, sculpting various rhythmically acute phrases into a cogent statement.
Marcus Strickland’s “For Fewer Words,” one of four original tunes by band members on the disc, manages to sound both suave and uplifting. Projecting an attitude of self-assurance, the tenor saxophonist eases into his solo, investigating brief combinations of notes that Patton plays right back at him. He proceeds to negotiate the knotty structure of the composition with ease, alternating between deliberately considered phrasing and jolting double-time passages that shove the music forward.
Personnel: Jeremy Pelt--trumpet; Marcus Strickland--tenor/soprano saxophones; Julius Tolentino--alto saxophone; Jeb Patton--piano; Brandon Owens--bass; E.J. Strickland--drums.