While there's nothing that's less than respectable on Still Evolved, tenor saxophonist Ted Nash's third album as leader and first on Palmetto Records, I kept waiting for the session to catch fire. Despite the presence of two of Nash's well-known colleagues from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Marcus Printup, and a blue-chip rhythm section, it seldom does, even though, taken as a whole, the music is engaging and there are occasional intervals of inspired blowing.
Perhaps the overall perception of nonchalance has something to do with the choice of material (Nash wrote each of the eight selections), or perhaps these gentlemen – each of whom has led groups and recorded on his own – are so proficient that they simply make things appear to be too easy. That could well be the case, as no one seems to have any problem apprehending Nash's charts, which are harmonically and rhythmically elaborate, to say the least.
Nash's songs are "thematic" in the sense that each one depicts a place, an event or a person that has special importance to him, beginning with "Shooting Star," written after the composer saw one from his Manhattan apartment. Other dedicatees include his old Volvo station wagon ("Jump Start"), a church in Italy ("Bells of Brescia"), an aunt's passion for collecting ("Ida's Spoons"), pianist/composer Andrew Hill ("Point of Arrival") and even himself ("The Competitor").
Marsalis and Printup appear on four tracks apiece, and each one gives full value, delivering workman-like performances that are bright and burnished without raising any goosebumps. The rhythm section, which has to stay alert and on its toes to decrypt Nash's blueprint, is forceful but not overbearing. As for the leader, he is smooth, articulate and technically sound, as one would expect from someone with his musical pedigree (he's the son of trombonist Dick Nash and the namesake of his uncle, saxophonist Ted Nash), and has evidently listened to and learned from such contemporary masters as Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker, Sonny Rollins and Joe Lovano, among others.
Nash and his teammates are so capable that there's really nothing to censure; on the other hand, Still Evolved doesn't offer much to quicken one's pulse either. An agreeable but less than adrenalizing session.