Sam Bevan / Bryan Bowman / Mas Koga / Grant Levin: Hawkeye (2010)
Hawkeye is the first release by a fine young quartet of musician, and a beautifully varied, eloquently played and intensely involving set of original compositions. The group, formed by bassist Sam Bevan and drummer Bryan Bowman, is based around the San Francisco area and brings together some young but talented players. Pianist Grant Levin and Japanese saxophonist/flautist Mas Koga complete the quartet. All four men contribute compositions to the album, also bringing their own ideas to the arrangements, leading to a genuinely collaborative project.
The tunes are a mix of straight-ahead jazz, hard bop and more contemporary jazz influences: there are also hints of many other genres as the players bring their varied experiences to the project. The mix of sounds creates what for the most part is a gently upbeat album filled with tremendous variation in style and approach.
Bevan takes the lion's share of the writing credits, with six tunes to his name. "Hawkeye" and "Miraje" both swing beautifully and give Levin and Koga the chance to stretch out with some melodic soloing. "Reverence for All Things Small" is performed by Bevan, Levin and Bowmanit's a spacious ballad that showcases Bevan's distinctive bass sound and Levin's sparkling piano.
"Perseverance" is Bowman's beautiful fusion of jazz and Eastern influences. The percussionist plays tabla on the tune, underpinning the melody with an attacking, danceable rhythm. "Middle Ground," written by Levin, has a delightfully fluid rhythm and some hard-driving left hand piano patterns. Bevan's wonderfully-titled "Spontaneous Root Variation" opens in a recognizably bop style before shifting into a more free-jazz feel then metamorphosing into a jagged duet between Koga's higher register sax and Bevan's energetic bass.
Koga's "Hanabi" brings yet another change of style to the album. The tune has a mysterious aura to it, due in large part to Koga's ethereal playing of the shakuhachi flute and Bowman's creative percussion. A slightly darker, slightly unsettling vibe comes to the fore on Bevan's "Sneak Attack." Levin's piano and Bevan's bass seem to laugh mockingly while Bevan's bass solo is almost menacing. It's one of the album's most successful tunes and once again demonstrates the quartet's ability to create different moods and atmospheres.
Hawkeye works on a number of levels: the talent of the musicians, the quality of the compositions and the variety of moods and styles combine to make a strong, enjoyably eclectic album. The fact that this is the band's debut makes it even more impressive: future collaborations are eagerly anticipated.
Track Listing: Hawkeye; Miraje; Event Horizon; Moments to Years; Perseverance; Middle Ground; Different Lamps, Same Light; Reverence for All Things Small; Wake Me When It's Over; Sneak Attack; Ethereal; Spontaneous Root Violation; Hanabi.
Personnel: Mas Koga: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, shakuhachi flute; Grant Levin: piano; Sam Bevan: bass; Bryan Bowman: drums, tabla.
Record Label: Mystery Panda Alliance Records
Style: Modern Jazz