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A note to this year’s poll–winning Jazz instrumentalists: don’t look over your shoulder; there’s a group of talented young players running behind you who are rapidly gaining ground with every ambitious stride they take. And if you wish to maintain your composure, do whatever you must to avoid listening to On the Loose by the Sharp Nine Class of 2001. It could be harmful to your self–confidence. Nine they’re not (only six) — but sharp they are. These young post–boppers, ages 21–25 when their coming–out album was recorded in June 2000, sound at times like a dynamic new incarnation of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Another group they bring to mind is the topnotch New York cooperative All for One. Many card–carrying musicians in the New York City area have probably heard about these precocious cats already, at least by reputation, and if this recording is any yardstick, it shouldn’t be long before the rest of the Jazz world gets the message too. The sextet includes identical twins Marcus (tenor, soprano sax) and drummer E.J. Strickland (you can tell them apart by the ’dos and by the fact that Marcus carries a saxophone case on his back); alto Julius Tolentino who has studied with master player / educator Jackie McLean at the Hartt School of Music; trumpeter Jeremy Pelt from the Berklee School and, most recently, the MIngus Big Band and Jimmy Heath Quintet; Florida–born bassist Brandon Owens who has gigged with Benny Green and Monty Alexander, among others; and pianist Jeb Patton whose influences include McCoy Tyner, Bud Powell, Ahmad Jamal, Cedar Walton and his mentor at Queens College, the marvelous Sir Roland Hanna. While splendid at any tempo, the group is at its collective best on the trio of flag–wavers — Dexter Gordon’s “I Want More,” Jimmy Heath’s “The Quota,” McLean’s “Bird Lives” — wherein they can show off their monstrous chops and remarkably tight rapport. Completing the program are Reuben Brown’s scampering “Billy” and one congenial composition each by Tolentino (“Dedicated to Dad”), Pelt (“Reassurance”), Patton (“All Is Not Lost”) and Marcus Strickland (“For Fewer Words”). The front–liners are quick and daring, the rhythm section nimble and responsive, although drummer E.J. (like Blakey before him) is sometimes a tad too boisterous and emphatic for our taste. Patton is especially persuasive whether comping or soloing. This is an excellent group of well–schooled musicians who play much older than they are, and Sharp Nine deserves a round of applause for supporting them as they endeavor to make a name for themselves in a crowded and uncommonly demanding profession.
Contact:Sharp Nine Records, 561 Hillcrest Avenue, Westfield, NJ 07090. Phone 908–789–7660; fax 908–654–1863. Web site, www.sharpnine.com; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Track Listing: I Want More; Dedicated to Dad; Billy; For Fewer Words; Reassurance; The Quota; All Is Not Lost; Bird Lives (55:08).
Personnel: Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Marcus Strickland, tenor, soprano sax; Julius Tolentino, alto sax; Jeb Patton, piano; Brandon Owens, bass; E.J. Strickland, drums.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.