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Steeplechase has long been in the business of giving young talent a shot. The label's roster is brimming with well-established, and sometimes legendary, names right along with players who are only just beginning to make their marks. Tenor saxophonist Martin Jacobsen certainly falls into the latter category, a young Danish man seeking his fortune in the niche market foothills that are today’s jazz scene.
Like many saxophonists of his generation, Jacobsen admits to a strong Coltrane influence. Though his preferred vintage of Trane isn’t as common, drawing on the saxophonist’s lesser touted Prestige years for inspiration and guidance. The chosen songbook also reflects a deep interest in Fifties hard bop and incorporates a pair of Hank Mobley tunes along with a handful of standards that were favorites for blowing sessions back in the day. Jacobsen opts for only a pair of originals, preferring instead to pack the program with an assortment familiar and lesser-known vehicles by others. His own tunes, the hard swinging “Backwater” and the title track, show him to be a composer of promise. While it’s instructive to hear his interpretations of familiar standards, the presence of only a few of his own pieces leaves the program feeling somehow incomplete.
Jacobsen’s colleagues evidence an equal affinity for this balance of blues and bop and guitarist Raney in particular fits beautifully as chief chordal foil. Frenchman Naturel and American Hollander achieve a relaxed, but propulsive rapport and effectively fuel the action. Raney’s lustrous comping frames Jacobsen’s dry cerulean lines on the opening entry “Witchcraft.” The guitarist’s own solo, steeped in bright fleshy single notes, is in turn accented by the steady rhythmic push of Naturel and Hollander. Naturel’s elastic arco approach recalls Paul Chambers in the swinging saw-tooth pitch of his tree-felling lines.
Charles Lloyd’s “Forest Flower” receives a lengthy reading and the syncopated Latin melody matches Jacobsen’s plush warm tone exquisitely. Raney’s effusive comping weaves with Hollander’s syncopations to create a lush tropical backdrop. The surprise comes with Naturel’s early pizzicato solo, thick and ripe with a succulent fulsome groove. It’s a pleasing trick he repeats on Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love.” The two Mobley tunes, “The I Dig of You” and “Funk in Deep Freeze,” accentuate the quartet’s sterling bop credentials. The four men sound like their having a ball blowing through the blues-plentiful changes and Jacobsen echoes the spirit of the composer, but with a greater urgency and resiliency to his tone. Raney’s cleverly constructed solo on the latter piece is easily his finest of the date.
By his astute choice of album titles Jacobsen seems well aware of what makes jazz a vital music. It’s the constant sense of growth and discovery, taking the old and making it new. While this is a fine debut, there’s little doubt that future endeavors will prove even more impressive as the both Jacobsen and the band continue to mature.