Nowadays, jazz artists release records less frequently than they once did, and partly because of this, each new album takes on an air of supposed (and usually record-company suggested) “importance” that often undercuts the music. I’ve mentioned previously my irritation with the proliferation of “theme” records, as if one has to have a special angle to get anyone to listen to new jazz.
Petite Promenade, the new Fresh Sound recording by pianist Magali Souriau, saxophonist Chris Cheek and bassist Matt Pavolka dispenses with any such pretension, harking back to the days when sympathetic musicians could simply get together for a casual session to cut some tunes, without sending out a press release. It succeeds admirably on its own terms and is an utterly enjoyable collection of wistful jazz with a knotty rhythmic undercurrent.
Souriau’s five compositions are lovely, and for every one that slips perhaps a bit too far into George Winston territory (the title track), there are others that smoothly marry classical poise to bluesy phrasing (the delightfully titled “Ahmad Ravel/Au Clair De La Lune” and “Hommage To Dollar Brand”). It is on the versions of tunes by the likes of Monk, Ellington, and Nat Adderley that the trio really works up a swinging groove.
So intrinsic to Monk’s compositions is his idiosyncratic style that tackling his songs is difficult for pianists: they usually either too-closely ape his distinctive intervals and attack, or they sand down the edges so that their original spirit is lost. Souriau happily threads the needle on “Ask Me Now” and a brief solo “Reflections,” retaining Monk’s angularity while deftly mixing in some rhythmic and harmonic ideas of her own.
A burning “Caravan” is another highlight here, with nice playing by Cheek and Pavolka, and interesting dissonant comping by Souriau. Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low” is driven along by Pavolka’s bass figures and features some great solo work by Cheek, who adopts a soft, Getz-like tone here. As on other Fresh Sounds, the saxophonist impresses with his ability to adapt and play well in any context; he’s one to watch, to be sure.
Jaded ears weary of being let down by some star’s latest “big statement” will rejoice in this small album, a timely reminder that for good jazz, spirit, tunes, and sheer joy will suffice.