On Ascension, the Black Art Jazz Collective, a like-minded sextet co-founded in 2012 by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and saxophonist Wayne Escoffery to salute the artistry of their mentors and musical heroes while moving the idiom forward into the twenty-first century, is unbending in its allegiance to the straight-ahead canon espoused by the architects of modern jazz. It's a stance that gives rise to pluses and minuses.
On the upside, this is splendid music, rhythmically and melodically pleasing, well-played by an ensemble whose members are bright and durable pillars on the New York-area scene. On the downside, the burnished performance can't becloud the fact that there's nothing special on the menu, simply well-arranged jazz that seems somehow vaguely familiar. In other words, the meal is meat and potatoes, even though remarkably well-cooked. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that every number is an original composition: three by Pelt, two each by pianist Victor Gould and trombonist James Burton III, one apiece by Escoffery and the late Jackie McLean, and, even more so, that none would have seemed out of place in a straight-shooting Prestige-Blue Note session from the '50s or '60s.
That's not to suggest that anything here is less than appetizing. Everyone writes well, and solos are as sharp and resourceful as one would expect from musicians with their awareness and expertise. Still, one can't evade the impression he/she has heard this before in other contexts. And yet, even an "encore" can be no less than agreeable when it is mapped out as well as this. Ascension embodies jazz whose contemporary framework is bolstered by an unerring trust in time- honored precepts as its anchor.
Ascension; Mr. Willis; Involuntary Servitude; Twin Towers; No Words Needed; Tulsa; Iron Man;
For the Kids; Birdie’s Bounce.
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