Eric Mintel Quartet: Hopscotch (2002)
Eric Mintel's 4th album features the leader/pianist's compositions except for Dave Brubeck's 1968 penned rarely recorded "Forty Days" and the Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol classic "Caravan". Brubeck's work is an interesting one. It's from a religious oratorio "The Light in the Wilderness". Mintel and group capture the religious intensity of the piece as Neil Wetzel plays with both fervor and passion. A close listen catches a few bars of Brubeck's more familiar work, "In Your Own Sweet Way".
This album gives the listener more than an hour of solid mainstream jazz with a progressive touch. While Mintel is the leader and is expert at the piano and with the composing pen, Neil Wetzel deserves equal billing. His saxophone has a unique tone, sharp, yet highly melodic, something like John Coltrane's inflection on his ballad albums. He also shows his touch with the clarinet on a lilting "Swinging on a Sunday". Mintel's compositions all are pleasant pieces prepared and performed sometimes easygoing, sometimes a bit cerebral, but always refreshing. Mintel clearly appreciates the importance of melody in music. It not only makes the music attractive to the ear, but provides the players a base from which they can take off and improvise. This perspective is heard on such pieces as "Japanese Maple" with Wetzel once more carrying the load, but getting assistance from Dave Antonow's bass. There is also a sense of the modal inherent in some pieces such as with "To Jobim" which, of course, has a Latin beat. A lively rendition of "Hopscotch" captures the bounce and fun of that age old children's pastime.
Mintel works out of East Stroudsburg, PA and this CD was cut at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. This only goes to show that highly urbanized and so-called cosmopolitan settings aren't necessary to produce fine jazz music. Recommended.
Track Listing: Hopscotch; Forty Days; Swingin' on a Sunday; Japanese Maple; Caribbean Moonlight; Dance of the Beautiful; Philadelphia Blues; To Jobim; Fall Waltz; Strollin'; Caravan
Personnel: Eric Mintel - Piano/Leader; Neil Wetzel - Saxes/Clarinet/Flute; Dave Antonow - Bass; Jeremy Berberian - Drums
Record Label: EJM