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New Tricks: Alternate Side

David A. Orthmann By

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Each of the nine tracks of Alternate Side by New Tricks, a quartet co-led by saxophonist Mike Lee and trumpeter Ted Chubb, is a journey of an irregular route with lots of detours. The melodies and some of the tunes' structures resemble hard bop but, in general, the music is freer and more intensely interactive. The give and take between the four principals never ends. Because things frequently change in an instant, nothing can be taken for granted. The band is so tight, so complete in itself, that it's difficult to comment on one individual's performance without including the contributions of the others.

Any attempt to describe New Tricks' sound starts at the band's bottom. Bassist Kellen Harrison and drummer Shawn Baltazor have an uncanny ability to loosen and tighten up any groove—jazz, Latin, funk, and more than a few that have no name—in a matter of seconds. Virtually everything they play is a rich, bold, busy, nuanced dialogue that somehow always manages to remain grounded and stable. Lee and Chubb are intrepid, melodically fertile soloists who stand their ground and thrive in the midst of the near constant state of flux that is going on around them.

"Long Road Home" is, perhaps, the most variegated and rewarding of the lot. Baltazor's precise, chatty, free form beats eventually disappear into thin air, only to be supplanted by a steady, gleeful stomp that evokes both Gene Krupa and Elvin Jones. Harrison enters and outlines a solemn, repetitive theme, and then the horns flesh out the melody. As the composition expands and takes flight, Harrison's and Baltazor's conversation into straight jazz time is eventually deconstructed into something punchy and rutted.

And so it goes, throughout Lee's and Chubb's solos. Harrison and Baltazor are always building something, tearing it apart, and then constructing yet another edifice in a different form. Early on in Lee's slowly evolving, well-ordered and hearty improvisation, a flurry of notes by Harrison and Baltazor's related tangle of beats sets off a chain reaction. Lee takes the bait, and for several breathtaking seconds it's tough to tell who is responding to whom. For a time Chubb offers a neat series of bright melodies, as the bass and drums playfully dart around him. Awhile later, ten consecutive trumpet blasts bring out something primal in Baltazor, who slams against him and abruptly changes course the moment Chubb moves on.

Alternate Side demonstrates just how far the jazz mainstream can be stretched without becoming perverted and unrecognizable—and what a real band (as opposed to talented, like minded individuals herded into a studio without sufficient preparation) sounds like. New Tricks has been rehearsing in Lee's basement and gigging—locally in New Jersey venues, as well as on Midwest and West Coast tours—for the past five years. The fruit of their hard work is a disc that will continue to be essential listening in the years to come.

Track Listing: Alternate Side Parking; Optimistic-Lee; Shellen vs Chee; Vicenza Days; Back to Work; Long Road Home; New Dog; Short Stops; Skeltazor.

Personnel: Mike Lee: tenor saxophone; Ted Chubb: trumpet; Kellen Harrison: bass; Shawn Baltazor: drums.

Title: Alternate Side | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Self Produced

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