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Planet Jazz: In Orbit

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Planet Jazz: In Orbit
Heavenly—if not very far out—sextet sides are Planet Jazz's saucer of well-steeped black tea. Just the bracing tonic one might expect from Sharp Nine, purveyor of intelligence and taste in small-band jazz for a decade.

From the first tightly scored, three-voiced chorus, which swings smoothly through drum breaks on a tune waggishly entitled "Mommy, Mommy No!, you can tell there's some underlying story here, and it happens to go beyond the weird titles. In this case, the group is a band formed by and playing in memory of its original founder, drummer Johnny Ellis. Ellis' original charts manifest a blend of creative tension with forward drive. Three relaxed tracks are well-borrowed from various eras—a melodic Latin-esque groove by trumpeter Charlie Shavers ("Dawn on the Desert ), written for the similarly provocative chamber-jazz John Kirby Sextet; pianist Hampton Hawes' pleasing chromatic waltz "Sonora ; and the closing easygoing blues collaboration by Ellington/Hodges ("Dual Highway ).

These delicately filigreed ensembles spin out with the brilliant tensile strength of platinum wire; solos are succinct and retro (read: timeless, not faceless), yet informed and impassioned. Planet Jazz is foremost a well-oiled ensemble, secondarily a vehicle for soloists, who do their level best to buoy and sustain the admirably crafted pieces. Why not? The sextet has been a unit since 1991—the lone replacement being drummer Joe Strasser for Ellis, who died too young at 44 in 1999.

This release smacks not of "memorial": the playing is blithe and upbeat, and Ellis' zoomorphic preoccupation with quadrupeds underlines the wacky, carefree moods evoked in his dreamy yet grounded charts. Beautifully done!

Track Listing

Mommy, Mommy No!; Buttermouse; The Cow Is Now; The Lemur is a Dreamer; Dawn on the Desert; The Squirrel is a Girl; Sonora; Dual Highway.

Personnel

Grant Stewart: tenor saxophone; Joe Magnarelli: trumpet, flugelhorn; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Spike Wilner: piano; Neal Miner: bass; Joe Strasser: drums.

Album information

Title: In Orbit | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Sharp Nine Records

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