Studio recordings are nice, but if you want to know how jazz musicians really
work together, place them in front of an audience. For the Marvin Stamm/Ed Soph Quartet, that's no problem. This is a working unit comprised of gentlemen who not only play together regularly but are temperamentally and musically compatible, to boot. In other words, the level of rapport and mutual respect is unusually high, even when the group welcomes a guest artist, as it does guitarist John Abercrombie on four of the eight selections on Live at Birdland.
Stamm describes the quartet as a co-op, which means that everyone not only has a voice in choosing the music but is an indispensable member of the team, collectively and individually. Everyone works together, everyone is given plenty of space to improvise, and, most important, everyone does so quite well. Stamm, a widely underrated trumpeter, is invariably reliable throughout, and he's especially persuasive (as is pianist Bill Mays) on bassist Rufus Reid's spirited bossa "When She Smiles Upon Your Face (I'd have led with that one).
"Smiles is one of two engaging songs by Reid; the other, "The Meddler, is a funky blues that closes the set on an amiable note. The all-original program includes two numbers each by Stamm ("Samba du Nancy, "Two as One ) and Mays ("In Her Arms, "Gemma's Eyes ), Ted Nash's "Waltz for Mia and the easygoing curtain-raiser, "Svensson, written by the great Swedish composer/pianist Lars Jansson. Mays' unaccompanied piano launches "Svensson, while Soph has a two-minute rendezvous with the coquettish "Nancy before the others take their turn.
Abercrombie makes it a quintet on the ballad "In Her Arms and happy "Waltz for Mia, showing his splendid chops on extended solos, as he does on "Gemma's Eyes and "The Meddler. "Two as One is another ballad (with tasteful extemporizing by Stamm, on flugel, Mays and Reid), and even though "When She Smiles sounds like it should be from the title, it's not. The mood is Latin, the melody irresistible, the tempo upbeat, the input by all hands exemplary. "Gemma's Eyes is a medium-tempo charmer whose introductory passage is vaguely reminiscent of the standard "I Can Dream, Can't I? Again, Stamm is quite impressive on flugel.
A charming and colorful concert date with first-rate sound, even though it's weighted slightly toward the rhythm section, especially pianist Mays. While Stamm and Co. aren't known as superstars, there's not much to separate them from those who are. In other words, they play pretty good. But don't take my word for itlisten with your own ears.
Track Listing: Svensson; Samba du Nancy; In Her Arms; Waltz for Mia; Two as One; When She Smiles Upon Your Face; Gemmaís Eyes; The Meddler (64:22).
Personnel: Marvin Stamm, trumpet, flugelhorn; Ed Soph, drums; Bill Mays, piano; Rufus Reid, bass; John Abercrombie (3, 4, 7, 8), guitar.
Year Released: 2005
| Record Label: Jazzed Media
| Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream