If I were promoting a group's debut album, I'm not sure it'd be as the work of a band from "one of Chicago's premier cruise lines." That seems about as catchy as "famous Caribbean pizza." Luckily, Mike Frost's sextet doesn't need the pitch for its debut album, a first-class ticket that for the most part leaves lounge lizard fodder in steerage.
The Mike Frost Project is a "post-bop, B3 organ oriented" collaboration claiming to "honor the traditions of jazz and its pioneers" with nine standards (samples of seven can be heard at www.frostsounds.com ). Again, it's selling itself a bit short; the sound is fresh while remaining true to foundations, while the players likewise do an admirable job of giving past influences new life.
Frost, who's recorded with players ranging from Miles Davis to David Sanborn, sets the pace on tenor and soprano saxophones with a mix of approaches spanning those eras. He enters songs like "Oleo" and "Milestones" with classic post bop frenzies, but frequently lets less intense listeners catch up with simpler and more contemporary blowing. Maybe it's the cruise ship influence, sort of a leave-no-customer-behind mentality.
Guitarist Bill Borris is more West Coast contemporary than Midwest Mariner (is that really a genre?), but generally a good fitespecially for the whimsy of such songs as "St. Thomas" and "Cantaloupe Island." Tom Vaitsas' B3 work provides a contemporary backdrop critical to the modern-feeling sound of the compositions and wraps all things classically tasty into solos on songs like "Tenor Madness," combining pitch twists and chord drones with the best of them. Trumpeter Steve Frost's more-classic-than-modern tone is fine without being overly distinctive in a few appearances, while percussionist Tim Mulvenna and drummer David Bernat aren't asked to do much more than provide able support for their front-line mates.
Sometimes Frost throttles just a bit too far back, as happens on "'Round Midnight," where he does little beyond contributing a nice tone to the melody and Borris' solo is more comfort food than challenge. It's one of those times where the surrounding material plays a role: it would rate as a good track on a smooth jazz background album; here's it's merely OK.
The liner notes say this album was recorded live in-studio in two days, and it generally sounds like ita tight set that's consistent in quality, by a group whose members are familiar with each other. It doesn't take the risks that might catch the group at its absolute best or lead to moments best forgotten, but those listening to it will probably find themselves wanting morefitting enough for a group that spends a lot of time where buffets rule the roost.
Personnel: Mike Frost, tenor and soprano saxophones; Steve Frost, trumpet; Bill Boris, guitar; Tom Vaitsas, piano
and B3 organ; Tim Mulvenna, percussion; David Bernat, drums