The beauty of music is that when a subgenre emerges, it can evolve, even as the overall genre evolves. This is evident with hard bop and Burnin' Live. To be sure, this is hard bop. It is patently East Coast. The combo format is a trumpet/tenor quintet. The music is bebop, as passed through the prism of the funky church, with complex heads and melodies.
But this is 21st Century hard bop. Drummer Pete Zimmer assembles a band of New York City regulars who play with the grace of Miles Davis' early first great quintet and the fire of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He does this with a lively collection of original music that transcends the '50s and '60s, while remaining true to the spirit of the period.
The show opens with "Woodside Blues. Following a complex head, pianist Toru Dodo plays his best Maurice Ravel interpretation in an extended, impressionistic solo that sounds at once oddly out-of-place and perfectly appropriate to its environs. Joel Frahm follows with a conditioned tenor solo that is a solution of Wayne Shorter and Gene Ammons. Bassist David Wong and Drummer Zimmer provide the momentum. Zimmer's ride cymbal is a marvel as it guides the band. Trumpeter Michael Rodriguez plays with a mellow, tart and taut Lester Young-ish tone in mid-register. And so the remainder of the disc goes. There is hard bop here for all. "Getting Dizzy, a minor blues waltz, is like a collision between McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans, with the horns playing counter to one another... think Rodgers and Hammerstein meets Lee Morgan.
Doin' Somthin' is like Hank Mobley in a time machine caught in a traffic jam. The staccato head provides the necessary funk to be elaborated on in the solo sections. Rodriguez heats up his horn, driving past Miles Davis into Kenny Dorham territory. Frahm opens his tenor tone wide and attacks the funk head on. Dodo again confounds with his perfectly erudite piano, which seamlessly barrels through European sensibility and rhythm and blues alike.
"Waltz for Opp is the sole ballad in the set, pitting Frahm's introspective playing against Rodriguez's flugelhorn, which emits the sweetness of a near-ripe strawberry. "A Whole New You is the most beboppish of the bunch and acts as a little big band vehicle for the hottest playing on the record.
When most listeners think of jazz, they typically think of hard bop. This is as fine a recording as could be hoped for, and it will be on my end-of-the-year list.
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