A Little Optimism, trombonist Brendan Lanighan believes, can often go a long way. That is the essential message of the Lanighan Octet's debut recording, a pleasurable pastiche of original compositions by the Buffalo, NY-born trombonist plus a pair of enduring standards that share a springtime theme and the name Richard Rodgers as composer.
Along the way, Lanighan pays homage to one of his early heroes, the late tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker ("All Day Breckfest"); to another Buffalo-born jazz luminary, trumpeter Sam Noto ("Noto-Rioty"); and to his cherished Irish heritage ("Finck Tank"), the last of which features an appearance by violinist Willa Finck. The standards are "Spring Is Here" by Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and "It Might as Well Be Spring" by Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. They are separated by Lanighan's brief "Spring Interlude."
As is true in most households, "Breckfest" starts the day, and this one has all the ingredients of a satisfying meal, dancing happily along behind luminous solos by Lanighan, tenor Elliot Scozzaro and drummer Eric Metzgar. There is a hint of Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson in Lanighan's breezy arrangement, a pattern that is repeated on the lively "Noto-Rioty," wherein Colin Gordon and Mark Filsinger frame dashing solos on alto sax and trumpet, respectively.
"A Little Optimism," written during the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, opens on a relatively subdued note before Metzgar and the ensemble take charge, lending essential buoyancy to the theme. If the earnest "Frank-ly" has a dedicatee, he or she is unnamed (Frank Rosolino, perhaps?). What it does have are splendid solos by Lanighan, bassist Emiliano Lasansky and Gordon, this time on baritone sax.
Lanighan's supple trombone is showcased with pianist Nick Weiser on his burnished arrangement of "It Might as Well Be Spring," which precedes another of the album's high spots, the playful "Little Garlic Knot" (Lanighan solos again, and there is a superb flute solo, even though no one on the album is listed as playing flute). Lanighan's second brief interlude, this one titled "Optimism," leads to the spirited finale, "Finck Tank," whose Irish theme is supplanted midstream by a more amorphous strain (and solo to match by Scozzaro) before returning to wrap the package. In sum, an ardent and colorful debut by a talented group of musicians who play with focus and enthusiasm.
All Day Breckfest; Frank-ly; A Little Optimism; Noto-Rioty; Spring Is Here; Spring Interlude; It
Might as Well Be Spring; Little Garlic Knot; Optimism Interlude; Finck Tank.
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