Luna Quartet: New Standards (2004)
The Luna Quartet's "new standards" are, as one might infer from the album's paradoxical and punning title, all their own material. For the group's third album, pianist Steve Moon and bassist Damon Lee have divvied up songwriting duties, netting three apiece. Guitarist Ian Scherer, a new addition to the quartet, contributes one.
The standout is "Miss B's Logic," written by Moon. This five-minute song seems to encapsulate what the latest incarnation of the Luna Quartet is all about: appealing, deceptively simple melodies that are introduced, varied, repeated, expanded and repeated again. This formula naturally bears some similarities with most jazz music; but through their steady emphasis on repetition and concision, the ensemble's songs display an affinity with mainstream pop. Not that this is off-putting or unwelcome. To the contrary. The pop quality is what gets a song like "Miss B's Logic" circling in one's head; the jazz quality is what enables it to set up long-term residence.
Scherer's guitar playing appears to take pride of place on this recording. Frequently Moon and Lee establish the head in a joint effort, but Scherer is the one to whom the baton is soon passed. It's the guitarist, for example, who settles into the sweet swinging stride on "Steamroller," the opener, and again on "Take Out" he is responsible for segueing from the Oriental-sounding intro into the all-too-brief rockabilly sock hop. He takes charge of both the head and first solo on his own composition, "Song for Monday." Like good hosts, Moon, Lee and drummer Niels Myrner, known to perform together in the past as the Luna Trio and as a quartet with vocalist Brett Abramson, have seated their guest (now a permanent fixture?) at the head of the table.
"Reflections" and "Passage," the album's requisite ballads, are delicate and balanced. Both have a real sense of propulsion and a narrative arc, somehow in keeping with the proper sense of a ballad; Lee draws out his bow for the latter. The puckish "Now and Never" belongs, in the cosmic scheme of things, to one of the great swing crooners. It just needs appropriately playful lyrics.
It's far too early to tell whether any of these seven tracks will enter the jazz canon alongside charts such as "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" and "'Round Midnight," but at any rate, they should go some way toward firmly establishing the young group as a talented and authentic voice within the San Francisco jazz scene. And at the very least, this fine and memorable record ought to raise their profile enough to avoid any nominal confusion with another Bay Area ensemble, the classical-minded Luna Nova Quartet.
Track Listing: 1. Steamroller (5:15); Song for Monday (5:02); 3. Miss B's Logic (5:04); 4. Reflections (6:40); 5. Take Out (2:58); 6. Passage (7:45); 7. Now and Never (3:48)
Personnel: Damon Lee (bass); Steve Moon (piano); Ian Scherer (guitar); Niels Myrner (drums)
Record Label: Luna Records