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At every college there are some students in the library and some at the frat parties. The bookworms may not be as popular or "fun, but smart money says they'll be the ones achieving respectability in ten years.
New York pianist Jesse Elder brings much of that academic mentality to his 2005 quintet debut, guiding originals in the spirit of an Art Tatum or Mulgrew Miller at a time when many of his peers are blasting out experiments in sound and theory hoping it's the next new thing. The 21-year-old's resume is filled with things like chop house gigs and young composer awards, and his quintet consists of players with similar credentials. Proof of their ability is evident in how this album was recordedin a single studio session lasting about three hours.
Elder's not, however, the dull geek only a parentor Dave Brubeckcould love. His compositions may not be revolutionary in depth or daring, but they feature flourishes designed to bring out the best in his bandmates, two of whom are part of saxophonist Greg Osby's cutting-edge mainstream quartet. His touch on piano, while light and mostly supportive instead of leading, also constantly shifts within the frameworks he sets up and therefore is seldom in danger of languishing in the soundscape.
One of the best chances to hear Elder is on "Puddle Jumping, where he's neither sparse nor overwhelming on a string of single-note lines that link harmoniously without covering the same ground beyond an occasional return to an anchoring hook. The same concept is at work on much of his chorded accompaniments.
On a surface level, the ten songs are mostly dominated by Colin Killalea's tenor saxophone and Tatum Greenblat's trumpet, played with a style and tone firmly from the straight-ahead '60s. Greenblat in particular commands attention on "Two Olive Trees and "Leaf Lines, staying busy with rapid chops that evolve nicely with enough simple moments to allow most listeners to keep pace. Everyone else gets their chance and makes the most of what space there is, like bassist Matthew Brewer's mid-tempo acoustic lesson in wringing complex ideas from a simple concept on the two-minute "Matt's Blues.
Among the compositional highlights are the minor-key syncopated pacing of "Red Paint," the unexpected halts and spoken poetry of e.e. cummings' "Tulips and Chimneys" on "Like A Deer, and the freeflow change of pace on the modernistic "Leaf Lines.
Elder's established a rock-solid foundation; he just needs to develop his acoustical architect so his structures have a more distinct countenance. His resume indicates he's not likely to rush haphazardly into trends, instead working on an approach that will serve him and his listeners for the long haul.
Click here to learn more about the Jesse Elder Quintet.
Track Listing: Beams And Arches; Two Olive Trees; A Nice Brew; Mattís Blues; Quaker Soul; Puddle Jumping; Lindaís
Way; Red Paint; Like A Deer; Leaf Lines
Personnel: Jesse Elder, piano; Matthew Brewer, bass; Thomas Crane, drums; Colin Killalea, tenor saxophone; Tatum