The Danish Steeplechase imprint has long recognized the fertile dynamics of jam sessions, fronting the resources for many in its roster of players to convene in just such supportive surroundings. Volumes 5 and 6 in the continuing series offer up vernal combinations and surprises while upholding producer Nils Winther’s credo of “positively no rehearsal.”
Volume 5 follows the template of past entries, at least in theory, focusing on a single frontline instrument, in this particular case the trumpet. Earlier volumes, incidentally, have focused on saxophone and guitar. Fortunately Wendholt, Gisbert and Ballou are markedly different stylists on their respective brass and the resulting diversity dispels any sense of homogeneity from the bandstand. The first two players have close ties to the mainstream tributaries of bop and hard bop, while Ballou straddles these strains and also shows a strong affinity for freer forms of improvisation. Laverne heads up the rhythm section with sensitivity and poise, while Anderson and Drummond fulfill their support roles in equally amicable fashion.
Miles Davis’ “Dig” delivers perfect fodder for the three front men to flex their embouchres and each solos brightly in loose succession. Gisbert’s tart tone contrasts with Ballou’s more rounded note runs, but it’s Wendholt who proves the smoothest of the three, peeling off buttery streams that dance and cavort against the bustling rhythm before a string of expressive exchanges takes the tune out. Freddie Hubbard’s statuesque standard “Up Jumped Spring” serves as well-chosen follow-up, as Ballou and Wendholdt don their mellow ballad hats and blow soothingly through the tune’s demulcent changes. Laverne’s elegant but understated comping acts as accommodating foil.
All three also enjoy a tune apiece, individually. Wendholt steps up first, trying his hand at a romance-laden rundown of “Body and Soul,” and the rhythm section shines right alongside him, fitting his solo improvisations like hand in glove. For Gisbert it’s a lovely reading of the Tad Dameron chestnut “If You Could See Me Now.” Reclining on the plush changes, the trumpeter eases back into a solo of measured restraint and makes full use of his instrument’s satin tone. Ballou proves the most adventurous of the three, tackling Mingus’ “The Duke Ellington Sound of Love” and capturing the spirit of both departed composers in the gilded bell of his horn.
A pair of Laverne-penned originals provides clever interludes while still fitting seamlessly into the overall programmatic scheme. On “Afterthought” Ballou’s pitch-perfect appraisal of the theme paves a path for the composer’s own brief but beguiling variation and a stately unison close. The somewhat regrettably titled “World Wide Web” belies the triviality of its name through another circle of outstanding brass statements and even a rare solo turn from Anderson. Everything comes together on the closer, Ballou’s “Onion Straw,” a modal tune built on dark structures reminiscent of Andrew Hill’s Sixties work for Blue Note, opening plenty of space for blowing. Trumpet fans take note: this disc is chock full of the sort of spot on playing that the instrument was designed and built for.
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This review originally appeared in Steeplechase Jam Sessions .