At its best, the Toronto-based A&M (Adema & Manoukas) Octet brings to mind similar ensembles from the heyday of West Coast Jazz, superlative eight-member groups led by the likes of Dave Pell
and Lennie Niehaus
, among others; luckily for listerners, A&M is at its best most of the way on its debut recording, New Roots,
performing five original compositions, a brace of jazz ensigns by Thelonious Monk
and another by Dizzy Gillespie
One decisive measure of the album's worth is that the newer themes by co-leaders Nick Adema
("New Roots," "Runnin'") and Alex Manoukas ("Eastern Avenue," "In the Weeds," "Three Step Deal") more than hold their own with Monk's "Reflections" and "'Round Midnight" and Gillespie's "Tour de Force." Adema also plays trombone, Manoukas baritone sax, but they don't crave the limelight, instead assigning ample blowing space to their talented teammates who include trumpeter Evan Dalling
, saxophonists Brenon Parmar
and David Hodgson
, pianist Josh Smiley
, bassist Leighton Harrell
and drummer Keith Barstow.
Adema arranged the opener, "Tour de Force," replenishing Gillespie's bop vestment with a more modern wardrobe that embraces several interesting changes of pace and sharp solos by Smiley, Manoukas, Parmar and, last but not least, Harrell, one of the group's streadiest and most reliable voices, as he proves again on Manoukas' rhythmically seductive "In the Weeds," which follows. Adema also solos there, while Hodgson's agile soprano saxophone is the main voice on "'Round Midnight." The ensemble digs in hard on Manoukas' well-grooved "Three Step Deal" and Adema's fast-paced "New Roots," with resourceful solos on the former by Manoukas and Adema, on the latter by Smiley, Dalling, Manoukas and Barstow, and unwavering support on both numbers from Harrell, Smiley and Barstow.
Hodgson's lustrous soprano sax introduces and is showcased throughout Monk's sunny "Reflections," while a chorale of brass and reeds sets the stage for Adema's "Runnin,'" whose tempo accelerates to buttress stalwart solos by Hodgson and Harrell before morphing into a free-spirited coda. Manoukas' enticing "Eastern Avenue" sustains a bright and swinging mood as it gives Dalling, Hodgson (on tenor saxophone) and Barstow one last chance to share center stage. An octet's size is splendid for jazz purposes, combining the power of a big band with the intimacy of a smaller group. The A&M Octet makes the most of that, retracing some of the storied ensembles of yesterday while adding an eloquent contemporary voice to the mosaic.
Tour De Force ;Eastern Avenue; 'Round Midnight; New Roots; In The Weeds; Reflections; Three Step Deal;