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While the songs themselves aren't original to the band, the approach taken with Perfect Strangers is itself novel.
Bassist Todd Coolman is an in-demand session player based in New York. He director of jazz studies at Purchase College and has also authored two books: The Bass Tradition and The Bottom Line. His associations over the years have included Horace Silver, Gerry Mulligan, Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman, among others.
For Perfect Strangers, Coolman brought in the talents of Eric Alexander on tenor sax, alongside trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Jim McNeely and drummer John Riley. The songs are the result of an Internet- based "learning community," where the artist invited anyone who visited the ArtistShare Web site to submit original compositions. These songwriters are strangers to the quintet, who then took on the challenge of interpreting the submitted music and recording it.
"Full Circle" by Bill Stevens is a mellow piece, led largely by Lynch, with Coolman's bass providing a subtle background which the piano and drums in turn complement. Riley makes effective use of the cymbals, and his hi-hat play is crisp. Here, McNeely scores big on an extended piano solo and Alexander follows with an engaging tenor solo of his own.
On Mark Saltman's "Could You Imagine?" the quintet plays in a cheerful, hopeful fashion. The horns are in duet for the opening melody, before Alexander solos, firing off rapid-fire notes while Coolman, McNeely and Riley underscore. Lynch then brings a Randy Brecker-like solo to the track, followed by an improvisation from McNeely. Finally, Riley gets some solo time, bridging the call and response between the tenor and trumpet.
"Caribbean Sunset" brings a slightly tropical flavor to the recording. Riley makes good use of the rims on this Mike Williamson composition, and the entire track presents the air of a pleasure drive along the coast. Coolman, McNeely and Riley keep the mood light behind solos from Alexander and Lynch.
While Coolman is the leader and does get some solo work in, this is mainly a group effort. The horns are featured more than the leader, but also allow the piano and drums to shine through. All seven tracks are longer than seven minutes, allowing the quintet to stretch out, bringing the album in at just under an hour- -every minute of it well performed.
Track Listing: Crescent City Ditty; Full Circle; Connotation; Could You Imagine?; C Minor Waltz; Caribbean
Personnel: Todd Coolman: bass; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Brian Lynch: trumpet; Jim McNeely:
piano; John Riley: drums.