Drummer Chris Higginbottom's first album as leader is a straight-ahead quartet outing with Seamus Blake (tenor and soprano sax), Aaron Goldberg (piano) and Orlando le Fleming (bass). None of these four musicians are household namesyet, at any ratebut none are green by any standards. All have frequently gigged around their current stomping ground, New York, and elsewhere around the globe, working with such highly regarded musicians as Tim Garland, Jane Monheit, John Scofield and Joshua Redman.
The quartet coalesces well right from the beginning, turning out a mix of standards (five) and Higginbottom originals (three) with considerable verve and aplomb. On Wayne Shorter's "Blues a la Carte," which opens the disc, le Fleming's bass work is outstanding, buoying Blake's extended sax solo with melodic bounce and percussive stutter. There are some delectable moments when Higginbottom and le Fleming work together to hold up and then release the rhythmic flow, rather like winding up the mechanism in a toy car.
"Stray Dates" is one of Higginbottom's own. It has a loungey, smooth jazz feel, aided no doubt by Goldberg's dreamy sprinkling of notes on the Fender Rhodes and generally subdued playing all aroundthough the quartet gathers quite a bit of momentum toward the close of this seven-minute track. "She Walks in Beauty," another Higginbottom chart and a nod to Lord Byron, is a more classic-sounding ballad with a thoroughly languorous pace. Higginbottom's brushwork is light and sensuous, and both Blake and Goldberg pack an emotive punch without overindulging. Apparently Higginbottom favors the relaxed ballad tempo, as his "Sunday," the beautifully bluesy album closer, is mostly carried out at a half-step. Common to all of Higginbottom's compositions, too, is a fully self-assured and developed sound.
Higginbottom and his bandmates are slightly more adventurous on the standards, experimenting with the rhythmic and melodic elasticity of "Manteca" and working a bit of magic on Herbie Hancock's "The Sorcerer" by exploring every possible rhythmic permutation the tune offers. (Given Higginbottom's role and instrument, this recurring emphasis on rhythm seems fitting.) All four of them (especially Higginbottom) demonstrate enviable versatilityin springing from, say, the light-on-its-toes post-bop rendition of "April in Paris" to the darker neo-fusion reimagining of Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco." From one song to the next, Blake shows no loss of control or exhaustion of ideas on his many extended runs, and Goldberg's technique throughout is impeccable. His improvisations are consistently intelligent, pithy, melodic and memorable.
Bolder in its approach to standards than the tamer original charts, One is a showcase of fine ensemble playing by four impressive individual talents and a distinguished bandleader debut for Higginbottom.
Blues a la Carte; Stray Dates; Manteca; She Walks in Beauty; The Sorcerer; April in Paris; Un
Poco Loco; Sunday.
Chris Higginbottom: drums; Seamus Blake: tenor and soprano sax; Aaron Goldberg: piano;
Orlando le Fleming: bass.
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