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Remember Miles Davis’ groundbreaking Birth of the Cool sessions from 1949–50? Here they are again — in essence, at least — convincingly reawakened by the Jazz Nonet, which is composed primarily of faculty members at Arizona State University in Tempe. Three of the songs from those earlier dates — Cleo Henry’s “Boplicity,” John Carisi’s “Israel,” the classic Gil Evans arrangement of Johnny Mercer’s “Moondreams” — are augmented by five others including three by trumpeter Hopkins, pianist Marohnic’s “Just Blues” and McCoy Tyner’s intense “Mode to John.” On most of them, the singular character of what was known as the Miles Davis “tuba band” is safeguarded (the exception is “Just Blues,” on which Marohnic’s solo piano explores the familiar 12–bar pattern). Some of this material was previously issued by the Jazz Nonet under the title Hidden Agenda but wasn’t widely available, so the likelihood that more than a few people have heard it is small. The Nonet’s instrumentation is close to that of Davis’ earlier group except that the French horn has been replaced by a second trombone. The tuba remains, with Sam Pilafian in the role previously played by John Barber. Hopkins, who has obviously done his homework (well, he is a respected teacher in the Boston area), captures the tenor of those earlier sessions in his three pieces, “Hidden Agenda,” “Bas Relief” and “Mystic Valley,” while avoiding any unwarranted impersonation. The members of the Nonet are first–class musicians, which is underlined by the close–knit group interplay and generally persuasive solos. The spirit of those long–ago sessions in which the “cool” was born is marvelously encompassed here, but this is far more than an uninspired nostalgia trip.
Track listing: Boplicity; Hidden Agenda; Bas Relief; Israel; Mode to John; Just Blues; Moondreams; Mystic Valley (53:21).
Greg Hopkins, conductor, trumpet; Gary Carney, Russell Scarbrough, trombone; Sam Pilafian, tuba; Scott Zimmer, alto sax; Bryon Ruth, alto, tenor sax; Steve Von Wald, baritone sax; Chuck Marohnic, piano; Ed Friedland, bass; Dom Moio, drums.
Contact: Summit Records, Box 26850, Tempe, AZ 85285