Northwest + 1 is a group of five jazz musicians, all educators that were brought together in a routine guest artist appearance at Spokane Falls Community College in June of 2013, by trumpeter/educator Kevin Woods
. Woods along with his SFCC colleague pianist Danny McCollum, assembled a rhythm section of Washington's finest with Jon Hamar
on bass and Julian MacDonough
on drums to fill out the group of Northwestern based musicians. Saxophonist Damani Phillips
was invited to round out the group's horn section. Phillips currently serves as Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies and African-American Studies at the University of Iowa, where he teaches applied jazz saxophone, directs jazz combos and teaches courses in African-American music, jazz history, jazz theory and improvisation. Each of the musicians are active in performance and education, but the natural musical chemistry that the group felt almost immediately encouraged them to immediately make plans to record an album. Minor Suggestions
is comprised of eight original compositions from the various band members and one arrangement of the Victor Feldman's composition, "Lisa." Each member brings a unique angle compositionally and musically, all five certainly speak the same language and the style and feels that are presented cover a wide range of musical perspectives. From straight-ahead bebop as with "Minor Suggestions," "Lisa," and "Big Bird" or the straight eight ECM-like feel of "Clarity," "Jump Off Joe" or the mid-tempo swinging Blue Note era numbers like "Flotsam and Jetsam" and eventually "Blues for Mingus" or even a touch of the funky stuff on selections like "Sunset's Last Embrace" and "Curly." The result is a unique collection of songs with a common musical spirit that offers something for every jazz listener.
A highlight, the exciting opener, "Minor Suggestions," the two horn writing is excellent, just the right amount of harmony with bits of counterpoint and the blending of the two parts are played to perfection. Woods' soloing flows and fills the space with his big warm trumpet sound with lots of chromatic weaving throughout the harmony. Phillips plays awe-inspiring impassioned lines on this swinging Woods original. Phillips plays all over the horn with a playful rhythm that floats over the solid foundation from the propulsion of MacDonough and Hamar with thoughtful colors from McCollum's piano. McCollum makes the next solo statement with wide spanning arpeggios and in the pocket phrasing that makes the toe tap! A nice two horn background is added to keep things moving and MacDonough's drum solo keeps the energy alive and leveled, leading us to the recap and ending.
It is clear that each player has explicitly mastered the mighty tradition, in both feel and harmonic/melodic colors, but "Clarity" is evidence of reaching more deeply into the jazz canon of today with a wonderful straight eight composition from Hamar. With a long flowing through-composed melody that offers the opportunity for melodic bass counterpoint, the ensemble finds the sweet spot between jazz, classical and folk origins to unfold a performance that is elegant and incredibly emotive.
The penetrating pulse and throbbing backbeat of "Sunset's Last Embrace" is a wonderful jazz/funk selection penned by Phillips. Woods turns in another fine performance Phillips distinctly personal way of shaping a phrase is vividly clear with heightened lyricism; evoking an outstanding solo. Hamar's woody bass leads us through an enjoyable solo statement that finds the bassist exploring his fingerboard with melodic abandon. Again the ensemble has a sound that is consistent and cohesive.
Exalted levels of virtuosity have been an integral part of all jazz players, and Northwest +1 has no problem displaying their technical brilliance. "Lisa" finds the group back in the bop/post -bop mid-up swing feel with a masterful effect. Here Phillips and the quartet turned up the intensity level, pianist McCollim plays with a deep-into-the-keys ferocity and characteristic harmonic sophistication. Bassist Hamar drives the quarter hard, with MacDonough's energetic drums. The ensemble knows when to push each other to new levels of fervor. Both Woods and Phillips turned in solos with impeccable clarity of intention and brilliance. Minor Suggestions
captures a unique and celebratory chemistry that is a joy to hear, one that equally appeals to avid bopsters and devotees of modern jazz.