Perhaps inspired by the Marsalis family, New Orleans has turned out a number of world–class Jazz musicians in the past several years, as well as one of the country’s fastest–rising groups, Astral Project, whose saxophonist, Tony Dagradi, wrote the liner notes for this debut recording by the six–member Loyola University (New Orleans) Jazz Combo. Dagradi not only admires these young musicians, he also teaches them. And on the basis of Watercolors, one must surmise that they’ve learned their lessons well. The eight straight–ahead numbers that comprise the program were written by members of the group — three apiece by guitarist Lewis and saxophonist Nielsen, two by trombonist Scatassa — and each one has a lot of meat on its bones. I hesitate to single any of them out, but Nielsen’s boppish “Home Free” (on which he plays a Woods–like alto) and Lewis’s ballad–cum–swinger “Smoke Rings,” which opens the session, made an especially solid impression. Nielsen is on tenor there, as he is elsewhere except for “Home Free” and the title selection, which he wrote and on which he moves to soprano. The tenor has a big fat sound and a straight–from–the–hip point of view that began with Dexter Gordon and has proceeded on a line through Hank Mobley and Michael Brecker to today’s young lions. If Nielsen is the most persuasive soloist, Lewis and Branch aren’t far behind, while Scatassa seems to be a stronger writer than improviser, at least at this point. Besides keeping excellent time, Zarwell essays a splendid chorus or two on “Smoke Rings” and “Wastin’ Time,” as does 19–year–old drummer Ferdinand on Scatassa’s “Patience.” Despite the title of the blues–oriented finale, these young scholars definitely aren’t “Wastin’ Time.” Dagradi summarizes the case as well as we are able, so we’ll let him do the honors: ”. . .the CD at hand vividly documents a brief period of the development and enterprising spirit of these six young artists and holds out the promise of great things to come.” Well put, Tony.
Track listing: Smoke Rings; Breakfast with Li’l J; Patience; Watercolors; Home Free; Go Ahead; The Blue Room; Wastin’ Time (68:14).
Dana Nielsen, tenor, alto, soprano saxophone; Joe Scatassa, trombone; Jesse Lewis, guitar; Kirk Branch, piano; Kurt Zarwell, bass; Jua Ferdinand, drums.
Contact: Loyola University of New Orleans, College of Music, 6363 St. Charles Avenue, Box 8, New Orleans, LA 70118 (www.loyno.edu/music)