There's certainly no shortage of young jazz musicians vying for attention in New York. The sizeable amount of fresh-out-of-college idealists scouring the city's jam-sessions makes one wonder how a young tenor saxophonist like Zack Lipton could ever stand above the crowd and be heard. The answer may lie in artistic integrity, avoiding shifting trends and remaining true to the essence of the jazz genre. Lipton's debut as a leader, First Steps covers all of the above, resulting in an enjoyable, modern jazz release. The disc also features trumpeter Theo Crocker, pianist Tobin Chodos, bassist Jeff Hanley and drummer Craig Weinrib.
Lipton's improvisational approach echoes the swiftness of 1960s-era Wayne Shorter ("Flight, "104 ) and the gracefulness of Dexter Gordon ("March 1st, "Waltz for Maya ). The disc's ten tracks, all composed by Lipton, traverse a diverse array of tempos and grooves, with an underlying propensity to swing. Lipton's compositional skills shine bright on the opening track "Shtuyot, the ballad "March 1st and "The Hodge Positionary, a frenzied romp with angular proportions.
With solo space spread out evenly amongst the quintet, the disc serves as a showcase for all involved. Crocker, who seems to have fallen under the Freddie Hubbard spell, has a crisp tone and a go-for-broke approach to soloing. Chodos is a subtle pianist with tremendous intuition; a patient risk-taker who isn't afraid to develop his ideas. Hanley creates quite a low-end rumble, providing solid support and meaty, albeit brief bass solos ("Waltz for Maya, "104 ). Weinrib demonstrates sensitivity for the varying complexities of modern jazz drumming. His Tony Williams-style, off-time prodding on "The Hodge Positionary teeters wonderfully on the edge of collapse without losing a sense of momentum.
A gifted saxophonist and composer, Lipton has the potential to develop into an original voice on the jazz scene. First Steps is an engaging introduction, musically genuine and well-conceived.
Track Listing: Shtuyot; March 1st; Interlude 1 (Hot Tune); The Hodge Positionary; Waltz for Maya; Interlude 2 (The Theme); Flight; Interlude 3 (The Theme); 104; Blues.
Personnel: Zack Lipton: tenor saxophone; Theo Crocker: trumpet; Tobin Chodos: piano; Jeff Hanley: bass; Craig Weinrib: drums.