Formed at Stony Brook University in 2009, The Oatmeal Jazz Combo returns with Instant Oats
, their fifth album, following Whole Wheat Oats
(LGY Records, 2015). There have been some changes on the front line, and there are no vocalists featured this time. The program opens with the gentle bossa nova of Antonio Carlos Jobim
's "Look to the Sky," a beautiful, infrequently played tune that serves as a kind of prelude. The group really introduces itself with the fanfare-like "Searching for the Truth" from the pen of new trumpeter Jonathan Saraga
Bassist Tristan Eggener's "Show Cat Valley" brings in the group's secret weapon, steel pan player Leon Foster Thomas
. Thomas is a consistently interesting soloist, and his novel instrumental color is used here for both the bridge and a solo (along with a trombone solo from James Hubbard). Pianist Andrew McGowan
contributes "Spikey," which is also graced by a sax solo from new reed player Steven Carrington (who in turn penned "Just Be'cuz"). McGowan is also responsible for two of the album's most spontaneous tracks: his solo version of "Feel Like Makin' Love" (the Roberta Flack hit from 1974, not the 1975 Bad Company tune), and his "Duet" with trumpeter Saraga. Drummer and band leader Leander Young
says that they were both last second improvisations as a result of band members having to leave the recording session early to catch flights. That makes them a lucky accident: they demonstrate a welcome looseness the group might want to explore in the future.
Eggener's "Fly Cat" is a funky tune that opens with a trombone/bass duet, and gives guitarist Kenjiro Miyaghishi both a prominent rhythm role and a solo. They save the biggest surprise for the last track, an imaginative arrangement of "Transformers," the theme from the 1980s animated series. Sure to pack a nostalgic kick for listeners of a certain age, it works surprisingly well as a jazz vehicle, with a great slow drag ending from arranger Eggener. Instant Oats
is a varied, energetic program, with strong playing, composing and arranging from the whole team. Each song is different: none feature a stock series of solos from everyone in the band. They showcase a group that is still excited to play together, still learning and growing.
Look to the Sky; Searching for the Truth; Show Cat Valley; Spikey; Feel Like Makin' Love; Just Be'cuz; Puffy; Duet; Fly Cat; Transformers.
Jonathan Saraga: trumpet; Kenjiro Miyagishi: guitar; Steven Carrington: reeds; Andrew McGowan: piano; James Hubbard: trombone; Tristan Eggener: bass; Leon Foster Thomas: steel pan; Leander Young: drums/band leader.