Nathan Eklund Group at Cecil's Jazz Club

David A. Orthmann By

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Nathan Eklund Group
Cecil's Jazz Club
West Orange, NJ
September 10, 2010

There wasn't a single defining moment in the Nathan Eklund Group's seventy minute performance at Cecil's Jazz Club. But the rewards of catching the band at the peak of its powers were spread out in one long wave, only briefly interrupted by Eklund's spoken introductions. The gig was billed as a release party for Coin Flip (OA2 Records, 2010), the trumpeter's fourth disc as a leader. The record's nine tracks (four of which were included in the set) are indeed a cause for celebration. Eklund and his cohorts sound like a real band instead of an impromptu gathering of soloists and a rhythm section. Though after one or two listenings the melodies of the leader's compositions become as familiar and as welcome as an old friend, they're not simple. Eklund has a penchant for writing themes which evolve in intriguing ways without losing their shape or focus. Taking a cue from his variable tunes, fender rhodes pianist Steve Myerson, bassist Kellen Harrison, and drummer Shawn Baltazor frequently erase the distinctions between jazz, Latin, and funk, as well as handling odd meters with ease. They go about their business in mysterious ways, often sneaking in and out of tempo, or changing direction and emphasis in no prescribed pattern.

Throughout the set at Cecil's, as the rhythm section shifted gears and maintained a semblance of continuity, Eklund, saxophonist Craig Yaremko, and Myerson displayed convincing solo styles. Seemingly frail at one moment, and hearty the next, Eklund's improvisations were a model of taut lyricism. On "Chim's Paradise," while the band simmered, he began as if in slow motion. Responding to one of Baltazor's urgent fills, he gradually worked his way into long, crackling strings of notes in the instrument's upper register. Ostensibly detached from everything going on around him, at the onset of "Coin Flip," notes seemed to slowly and randomly drop out of Eklund's flugelhorn. Picking up on a dramatic increase of energy by the piano, bass and drums, he gleefully executed punchy, Latin-oriented thoughts. Buoyed by Harrison's potent comments and Baltazor's funk beats, Eklund's bright, popping lines evolved into single notes, each one spread out over the course of a few beats.

Parts of Yaremko's alto and tenor improvisations frequently resembled patterns of speech. Never staying in one place for very long, he ably juggled changes in tone, velocity and phrasing. His "Emancipated Thinking" (from Eklund's 2007 The Crooked Line disc) tenor solo sported a broad tone which loudly sounded out even when the rhythm section stayed at a low volume. Moving quickly and without hesitation, his convoluted thoughts morphed into biting pairs of notes, agitated screams, and patterns which resembled the chugging of a locomotive. A sharp, keening tone on the alto defined Yaremko's "Chim's Paradise" turn. He initially left a lot of space for the others to fill and then became verbose. A braying cry led to guttural sounds which plumbed the horn's depths. One long scream preceded a complex run, and then he gradually expanded a four note pattern.

In addition to thoughtful introductory remarks to "Chim's Paradise," "Coin Flip," and the lovely ballad "Happy's Sadness," Myerson's improvisations were consistently stimulating. His uncluttered single note lines during "Chim's Paradise" fit hand in glove with the swinging five-four groove of the bass and drums. Taking in stride Harrison's and Baltazor's mercurial changes in emphasis on "Coin Flip," Myerson let one note ring for a few beats, abruptly cut off a probing series of runs, and executed a chordal sequence which sounded like the foundation for a long forgotten 1950s rock and roll anthem.

Baltazor had the last word on "Professor Dissendadt," the set's closer. After the out head, his solo over a long odd meter vamp began at a low dynamic level and gradually became louder and more intense. As he chafed against the vamp's jagged contours, Baltazor sounded like someone trying to pound his way out of a confined space, yet realizing all the while that he really didn't want to escape.

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