Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble: Expectation (2007)
The young Swiss label Kind Of Blue, after a patchy start which included some pretty cheesy projects, is beginning to hit a more formidable stride. Two 2007 releases, pianist Mark Soskin's One Hopeful Day, a fine band album made luminous by saxophonist Chris Potter, and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's For Sentimental Reasons, all silk sheets and flickering candles, are likely to crop up in the best-of lists at the end of the year.
So, too, should the Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble's Expectation. Like the previous two albums, this one sits in an amiable corner of the modern-mainstream tradition but, also like the previous discs, its creators bring degrees of invention and quirky twists to the music which lift it skywards. It's a beautifully conceived set of standards and jazz classics, creatively yet respectfully arranged, and performed by outstanding, empathetic musicians, each of them a memorable soloist.
Bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, the Ensemble's leader and arranger, has worked in some A-list bands over the past decadewith pianists Alice Coltrane and Brad Mehldau and saxophonists Charles Lloyd and Joe Lovano, among othersand for Expectation he cherry-picked a line-up from empathetic sidemen met along the way. The ever propulsive, cliché-free drummer Peter Erskine (like all the musicians, beautifully recorded, every piece of his kit shimmering in the light). The funky, harmonically sophisticated organist Alan Pasqua. Saxophonist Bob Sheppard (on five tracks), nimble on the soprano, a quiet fire on tenor. And vocalist Janis Siegel of Manhattan Transfer (on four tracks), mistress of elegance and cool.
At the heart of the music, alongside the awesome Erskine, is guitarist Larry Koonse. Foursquare in the Charlie Christian/Wes Montgomery tradition, Koonse is a technically adept and ravishingly melodic player, his improvisations full of long, lyrical, flowing lines. The band swings righteously from start to finish, Erskine and Oleszkiewicz setting the pace, Pasqua prompting and prodding, Koonse dancing like a genie in front. It's just gorgeous, and full of surprises and unexpected twists and diversions.
In writing the arrangementswhich are sunny, spacious and imaginatively voicedOleszkiewicz avoids major recalibrations, preferring to retain the original top-lines and changes with just a tweak here and there. The tweaks include putting Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty" in 5/4 timeencouraging some drum breaks from Erksine as arresting as those played by drummer Joe Morello on the Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Take Five"and setting Irving Berlin's "I Got Lost In His Arms" over an Antonio Jobim-esque bossa-nova guitar chart.
In the sleeve notes, Oleszkiewicz writes that playing with this group feels like driving a luxurious, vintage Cadillac, with all its comfort, power and flamboyance. Listening to it feels like that too. Remember to keep the sunroof down.
Track Listing: All Blues; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; Along Came Betty; Blue In Green; Expectation; San Franciso Holiday; I Got Lost In His Arms; Why Do I Love You; This Is New; Sail Away; I'll Be Seeing You; Whatever Possessed Me.
Personnel: Larry Koonse: guitar; Alan Pasqua: B3 Hammond organ; Darek Oleszkiewicz: bass; Peter Erskine: drums; Bob Sheppard: soprano (1, 6) and tenor (2, 5, 9) saxophone; Janis Siegel: vocals (2, 5, 7, 12).