Those who remember fondly trumpeter Miles Davis’ groundbreaking “Birth of the Cool” recordings from 1949–50 should quickly warm to Hidden Agenda, a buoyant and colorful session that embodies their spirit but shuns any whisper of needless imitation. The Jazz Nonet is composed of faculty members at Arizona State University; the “guests” are fleet–fingered trumpeter Greg Hopkins (who composed and arranged two selections, “Bas Relief” and “Hidden Agenda”), bassist David Friesen and drummer Joe LaBarbera (who perform in a trio setting with pianist Marohnic on Herbie Hancock’s “Speak Like a Child” and Marohnic’s “Ascesis”). The nonet emulates in its makeup the earlier Davis group in that each one employed a tuba (Sam Pilafian with the nonet, Bill Barber with Miles’ ensemble) but apparently they couldn’t find a suitable French horn player to dep for John Graas, as the nonet uses instead two trombones (Carney and Scarbrough). The sound, however, is sometimes remarkably similar to Davis’ prototype (as in the Gil Evans arrangements of “Boplicity” and “Moondreams,” the same ones used in those earlier sessions). Also from the “Birth of the Cool” scrapbook comes John Carisi’s “Israel.” Of more recent vintage are “Ascesis,” “Speak Like a Child,” Hopkins’ two charts, and McCoy Tyner’s romping opener, “Mode to John,” which kicks the session into high gear without any formalities. Pilafian’s tuba gives ensemble passages extra weight, and he appends a notably well–structured chorus on “Israel.” Hopkins is an enterprising soloist, as are Marohnic, Zimmer, Carney, Ruth and Von Wald (who steps gingerly into Gerry Mulligan’s shoes and wears them well on “Boplicity”). No mere xxx into the nostalgic past, Hidden Agenda revisits a landmark concept — the “Birth of the Cool” — and conveys it engagingly forward into the ’90s. Well done.
Track listing: Mode to John; Bas Relief; Israel; Speak Like a Child; Hidden Agenda; Boplicity; Moondreams; Ascesis (47:39).
Greg Hopkins, conductor, trumpet; Gary Carney, Russell Scarbrough, trombone; Sam Pilafian, tuba; Scott Zimmer, alto sax; Bryon Ruth, alto, tenor sax; Steven Von Wald, baritone sax; Chuck Marohnic, piano; Ed Friedland, David Friesen, bass; Dom Moio, Joe LaBarbera, drums.