For the second time since Blue Note Records was revived in 1985, the label has gathered a resourceful group of jazz lions to present an up-to-the-minute glimpse of the hard bop legacy. And if New Directions
proves to be as critical in launching jazz careers as it's precursor was, recalling that Out of the Blue introduced the names of Kenny Garrett, Ralph Peterson, and Rob Hurst, then we are likely to be hearing more from the six gentlemen that make up this ensemble.
Initiated last year by the head of Japan's Toshiba-EMI, of which Blue Note belongs, New Directions' roster is made up of recent signees who got together to help celebrate the label's 60th anniversary. Following a tour last winter, the sextet entered the Van Gelder studios to cut the disc at hand, which is composed primarily of covers of vintage Blue Note tunes. This was to be no mere retread of familiar themes however, as saxophonists Greg Osby and Mark Shim, pianist Jason Moran, and vibraphonist Stefon Harris shared the duties in giving each classic selection a completely updated and extensive make-over.
With a focus on the funky boogaloo type of lines popular during the mid-60's, the sagacious mix of tunes includes "The Sidewinder," "Recorda Me," "Tom Thumb," and "No Room For Squares." Particularly valuable in terms of artistic development are a darker and more cacophonous take on "Song For My Father," and the jagged and burning solos on "Big Bertha," a Duke Pearson melody that ends up sounding more like an Andrew Hill invention in the sextet's hands. A duo performance of Sam Rivers' "Beatrice" from Moran and Harris is equally outstanding.
All of the musicians featured on New Directions, including drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen, are highly developed players in their own right, and the collective temper they generate as a team is nothing short of invigorating.