of Steeplechase's jam session series adopts the more familiar framework of saxophones, brass and rhythm, but still relies on the element of the surprise in its solo statements. With a songbook of only four compositions, the tracks are considerably longer and allow for more loquacity on the part of the players.
George Colligan is the veteran of the group with an impressive nineteen Steeplechase notches on his belt, but all of the men are in their early thirties, and the youthful brio on hand feeds directly into the excitement of the session. The pianist’s dark chords give the usually festive “It’s You Or No One” a welcome bite, and saxophonist Joel Frahm is the first up in a vertical elaboration on the theme that employs the nasal range of his instrument to fine effect. Alex Norris’s response starts slow but gains steam quickly, and before long he's wailing away in an upper register stream that would make Freddie Hubbard proud. Ambrose's lusty tenor holds court next, sliding sleekly through the changes with strong legato lines. Finally it’s Colligan’s turn and he moves from sprightly comping into an extemporization that makes beautiful use of repetition with some daring right hand figures.
David Ephross’s “Short Hare,” which has roots in late '60s Herbie Hancock circa Speak Like a Child, allows the only solo of the date for the bassist and its right up front, supple and sinewy. Ari Hoenig is also essential on this track, his steady cymbal patter tracing a cantering beat around the composer’s anchoring harmonic line. Norris lets fly with an anthemic flutter of notes and the sextet spends the next seven minutes in closely attentive communication with further sorties from Frahm and Colligan.
Wayne Shorter’s Latinish “El Gaucho” keeps the collective blood simmering. Colligan states the strong seven-note theme, backed by Hoenig’s self-assured sticks, eventually ceding space to a solo order that starts with Norris’s pungent brass. Ambrose follows, echoing the famous saxophonist/ composer’s sound with a tone that turns from fat and robust to knotty and lubricious. Frahm covers Shorter’s other alias on lithesome soprano, and Colligan shores the track up with a complex sally through the chords that sets things up for a stunning polyphonous close. “SKJ,” from the Milt Jackson song stable, caps the date off and gives the pianist another swinging forum to strut his stuff. Norris, Ambrose and Frahm also have their respective and highly personalized says on the blues- derived changes, before another colloquy of exchanges with Hoenig takes things out.
As long as there is jazz, jam sessions will continue to be the glue that holds the art form together. It’s a dyed-in-the-wool tradition in the music and a primary means by which it evolves. These conclaves of like-minded players draw enthusiastically on the best traits of the practice. The days when giants like Bean, Bags, Jaws and Jug frequented after hours haunts, blowing just for the fun of it and honing their craft into a distinctly American art form are past, but the vernaculars they shaped live on in these men and show that the handed down torch is definitely still burning bright.
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This review originally appeared in Steeplechase Jam Sessions .