Jim Rotondi: New Vistas (2004)
Aptly titled to be sure, Jim Rotondi's New Vistas offers somewhat of a new direction for this hard bop trumpeter, who finds himself mixing it up with a cast of new friends. Although he had included a few cuts with Larry Goldings on B3 for his debut Criss Cross release, this session also marks the first time that Rotondi has opted for an organ combo approach that goes beyond the norm with a little extra help from Chris Potter. In fact, many of the saxophonist's statements could arguably be considered some his best recorded work to date, and Rotondi is no less commanding as the leader of this crack team.
Three of the eight cuts here are from Rotondi's pen, with "Stranger than Fiction" being a familiar chart cut previously by the group One For All. The lead off track, "Blues Nouveau," sets a healthy pace with Bill Stewart's drum pulse responsive to each soloist's every move. An updated boogaloo line with a sagacious tag, "John Force" finds the pots on for a healthy simmer, and even within this familiar framework Rotondi and Potter avoid the clichés with solo spots that each tell a story. Of course, this type of groove also provides the perfect setting for Peter Bernstein's single note runs and Sam Yahel's beefy chordal backing.
As a balance to the more fiery numbers, Rotondi weighs in with rewarding updates of Buster Williams' "Firewater" and Duke Pearson's "My Love Waits," the former benefiting from Yahel's light touch and melodic approach and the latter providing a spotlight for Rotondi's poetic brilliance. It's worth mentioning here as well that our leading man wisely chooses to vary the solo format on each number to avoid monotony and a jam session mentality, something even more important in an ensemble that boasts several lead instrumentalists.
The most forward-thinking cut here is Chris Potter's "Assisi," which proves that the saxophonist's writing is as adventurous as his playing. Not merely a loose structure to blow over, Potter's line builds momentum as it progresses, its tag used as an interlude between solos. By contrast, from Bernstein's pen we get "Autumn Chill," a lively waltz tempo with a sunny disposition and chock full of the guitarist's lyrical gifts.
With New Vistas , Jim Rotondi has found yet another side of his personality to share, and it's clear that there was a sense of mutual inspiration from everyone on board. Although often intangible and hard to put into words, this is the kind of record that just clicks from the get-go and keeps yielding new rewards with subsequent spins. I wouldn't be surprised to see it pop up on a few "end of the year" lists. I know it's one of the best records I've heard this year.
Track Listing: Blues Noveau, John Force, Firewater, My Love Waits, Autumn Chill, Isn't It a Pity, Assisi, Stranger Than Fiction
Personnel: Jim Rotondi (trumpet and flugelhorn), Chris Potter (tenor sax and flute), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Sam Yahel (organ), Bill Stewart (drums)