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Rob Derke & The NYJAZZ Quartet: Blue Divide

Dan Bilawsky By

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Saxophonist Rob Derke—the man behind the jazz-promoting nonprofit known as the NYJAZZ Initiative—significantly widened his reach with Mad About Thad (Jazzheads, 2011). That album, a finely sculpted tribute to the great trumpeter-composer Thad Jones, helped to shine a light on Derke's organization and brought more deserved attention to the music of a dearly departed legend. Now, this man with a mission returns as part of an extremely capable quartet that he considers to be "the backbone of the NYJAZZ Initiative."

On the aforementioned Jones tribute, a midsize outfit with plenty of horns fleshed out the music, sticking to the loyal-but-tweaked script(s) and adding personalized inflections to the songs at hand. Here, Derke and company write the scripts and take more liberties within them. Derke employs the same bottom-end entities on both discs, using the fluidly flexible and fierce Eric McPherson on drums and the spry-and-sly Carlo De Rosa on bass, but their open and playful qualities are far more apparent here. Pianist Aruan Ortiz—the fourth man and the only one not involved with the Jones project—proves to be every bit as demonstrative and daring as the rest. He adds splashes of dissonance and delivers angular-yet-melodic discourse when the temperature and tempo are running hot.

The material—six originals, a Herbie Hancock number that figured into Bertrand Tavernier's Round Midnight (Warner Bros., 1986), and a brief, freely improvised introduction to the whole thing—is mostly first rate. The album opens on the aforementioned searching "Prelude," but structure sets in on De Rosa's blues-based "Pasillo Azul." The quartet dials it down a few notches for Derke's tribute to saxophonist Davey Schildkraut ("Davey's Dreams"), but that number proves to only be a temporary respite. Tension and drive prove to be paramount on the follow-up track ("Dispossession"), which features some inspired solo volleying between Derke and Ortiz.

The second half of the album finds De Rosa up front on one of his own tunes ("Knowing"), Derke honoring his daughter through song ("G's Waltz"), and Ortiz leading the way into a slow-and-dreamy reading on a Hancock beauty ("Still Time"). Rather than end on a peaceful note, Derke and company return to the fray one last time with the propulsive "Taksim." It proves to be a fine and feisty way to finish.

Track Listing: Prelude; Pasillo Zaul; Davey's Dreams; Dispossession; Knowing; G's Waltz; Still Time; Taksim.

Personnel: Rob Derke: soprano saxophone; Aruan Ortiz: piano; Carlo De Rosa: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.

Title: Blue Divide | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Zoho Music


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