Jeremy Pelt Quintet
November 7, 2023
At forty seven years of age, trumpeter/composer Jeremy Pelt
came of age as a musician in the mid-1990's as a young member of the Mingus Big Band. He benefited greatly during that time and in the years that followed, from the mentorship of his elders. This tradition that has sustained the music over the course of more than one hundred years, took the human form of such icons as Jimmy Heath
, John Hicks
, Charlie Persip
, Ralph Peterson
and Cedar Walton
for the then young, emerging trumpeter. This would be to mention but a few. On his current 2023 tour of Europe and the United States, Pelt pays that debt forward, featuring a brilliant, young quintet in celebration of the release of his new album, Soundtrack
Pelt sees himself more in that light now, as a griot traveling the world as a storyteller expressing himself in the true oral tradition of bringing the music to the people, live. The current format strays away from the piano centered ensembles he usually tours with, this time relying on guitarist Alex Wintz
and vibraphonist Jalen Baker to carry the chordal harmony of the band in tandem. Pelt met bassist Leighton McKinley Harrell
in Montreal and decided to give the young man an opportunity, as he did with nineteen year old drummer Jared Spears, one of his students at William Paterson University in New Jersey. The young cats did not disappoint on this Tuesday evening tilt at the venerable Jazz Alley
The band was four weeks into a tour that began in Berlin, but this particular stage took a backseat to none along the way. Dimitriou's Jazz Alley has been presenting live jazz in Seattle for more than forty three years, with many of the grandest stars of the genre crossing the threshold onto the JA stage. The band was rewarded with a sizable and knowledgeable crowd.
The performance began with a drum interlude from the young Spears, a half minute or so that let the audience know on no uncertain terms that he would be a force to reckon with the remainder of the evening. His brilliant intro led into Pelt's "Underdog," a swinging piece that allowed the band to find its path and steer inside and outside of it. Based on his opening solo, it would be difficult not to lay the "Hutchinson comp" on young vibraphonist Baker, but his modern sound is deeply steeped in the sound of the masters, which inevitably draws that comparison. His percussive, athletic style however, would emerge over the course of the ninety minute session, revealing the original aspects of his playing.
Baker and his mates would all receive segments of the performance to play solo, and in trio with bass and drums, leaving them vulnerable to the forces of the here and now. Pelt's open ended piece, "The Invention" provided a sizable canvas for this notion. As the succession of solos began, Pelt was in trio with Spears and McKinley-Harrel, putting on full display his artistry that had pulled this enthusiastic crowd together in the first place. He has what could be described as a "quality attack," an almost dominant mastery of the instrument. While you can argue about his harmonic inventiveness and rhythmic ingenuity, this is an immutable fact. After the bandleader's masterful contribution, Wintz and Baker were both given the same opportunity, with Wintz' solo spot and Baker's dazzling, orchestral spread leaving a permanent mark on the Seattle crowd.
Pelt's penchant for playing ballads with graceful, romantic fire was put center stage between two consecutive pieces"For Whom I Love So Much," and Marian McPartland's, "They'll Be Other Times." His languid, long tones and elegant melodicism revealed the beauty of the written piece within the body of his interpretive, imaginative solos.
As mentioned earlier, Pelt takes his role as a mentor very seriously, something identifiable by his actions as a bandleader onstage. He proudly stands to the side and allows the band to stretch out and play. His role as a soloist is in no shape or form more extensive than those of his bandmates. Of course, as a trumpet player, this is a wise strategy. This equal partnership allowed the Seattle audience to fully appreciate the beautifully orchestrated dynamics of Spears, the sheer artistry of Baker and the multi-faceted mastery of Wintz. Bassist McKinley-Harrell in many ways was the enabler of the band, providing solid, inventive support for his musical co-workers. Pelt's handling of the band, which began in the hiring process, was the emotive item that each audience member exited the club with.
Pelt's "September 15" was a late set reminder of the possibilities moving forward with this band, whether performing together, or on their own projects. While many young jazz musicians can play fast with tremendous fire, drummer Spears showed us how to play fast dynamically, never overplaying and actually playing quietly at certain intervals in the piece. The kid gets it. As the "veteran" of the assemblage aside from the leader, Wintz shapeshifted brilliantly between rhythm section member and front line soloist. The comping in the band between the guitarist and Baker was intricate and minimalist. They never seemed to get in each other's way, something achieved over four weeks on the road. Accolades to Pelt for his beautiful playing, thoughtful producing and astute bandleading. The same for the venue, Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, for bringing this fine assemblage to the city, and for forty three years of bringing international recognition to Seattle as a notable jazz city.
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