On free at last, drummer Tobias Gebb shows great depth and maturity as a composer and arranger. This recording is a balanced mix of originals and standards, from various musical genres, combined to produce rich sounds and vibrant colors.
Veteran altoist Bobby Watson and young tenor lion Stacy Dillard take star turns on the brisk "Blues for Drazen," one of several tunes with a hard bop pedigree. Joel Frahm's gritty tenor, Joe Magnarelli's fluttering trumpet and Mark Gross}' shoulder-weaving alto do a delightful boogaloo on the mischievous "Spitball." Watson's lamenting alto and Dillard's consoling tenor have a lovely dialogue on "You Don't Know What Love Is." The leader doubles on drums and castanets, giving the tune a distinctly Latin flavor.
Gebb's passion comes through on the elegiac, heartfelt title track, inspired by Barack Obama's election as president. Frahm is at his bluesiest here, playing tenor with a strong gospel feeling. The clever "Softly As In a Morning Contemplation" seamlessly blends the songs "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise" and "Contemplation," tunes associated with the great pianist McCoy Tyner. Dillard grooves on the tenor, clear as a bell and Watson is right after him on alto, as pianist Eldad Zvulun, acting as the song's conscience, comps steadily. Gebb's splendid arrangement of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," with Neel Murgai's robust sitar, shows just how perfectly suited the song is to the jazz idiom.
Although the styles here are time-honored, Gebb and his band mates make them sound as new as a freshly opened LP. There's nothing overly complicated or outsized on free at last. Tobias Gebb simply chose a diverse roster of songs, gathered a group of fine players and the result is some great jazz.
Blues for Drazen; My Love; Spitball; You Don't Know What Love Is; Bop Be Dop; Free At Last; Softly as in a Morning Contemplation; Tomorrow Never Knows.