With virtually the same instrumentation as Miles Davis' so-called Tuba Band - only a French horn is missing, replaced by a second trombone - the Marohnic, Pilafian, Hopkins Jazz Nonet revisits the legacy of the Davis nonet on their outstanding debut album (named, fittingly, after a Davis drawing, featured on the CD cover).
Three tunes from Davis' "Birth of the Cool" sessions form the heart of the album, but this is more than just a tribute or repertory ensemble. The take on John Carisi's "Israel," for example, is dramatically opened up, offering extended solo opportunities for Samuel Pilafian on tuba, trombonist Gary Carney, pianist Chuck Marohnic, trumpeter Greg Hopkins, and alto saxophonist Bryon Ruth. The versions of two Gil Evans-arranged classics, "Boplicity" and "Moondreams," stick closer to the originals, which is to say they're near-perfect examples of sleek, seductive, sophisticated group harmonization.
Along with a splendid solo blues by Marohnic and a straight-ahead group romp through McCoy Tyner's "Mode for John," the rest of the album is a showcase for the estimable composing skills of Hopkins. His three originals run from the high-energy bebop of "Hidden Agenda," to the somewhat languorous "Bas Relief," to the closing "Mystic Valley," an engaging mid-tempo swinger that casually builds up momentum behind fine solo turns by Marohnic, Hopkins and bassist Ed Friedland.
With the exception of a few meandering solos and occasionally overstuffed arrangements, this album is a real delight. All the musicians featured here are talented, well-schooled jazz artists, worthy of greater recognition.