The NSU Jazz'Tet is comprised of seven students (and one faculty member, director / saxophonist Tommy Poole) from the Jazz Studies program at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK. Together they present an assortment of small-group jazz that is scrupulously modern yet firmly grounded in the music's time-honored traditions. Bop is a salient part of their vocabulary, as are blues, ballads, Latin rhythms, funk and even a waltz.
Besides putting their best foot forward musically, most members of the group contributed one or more original compositions to complement the lone standard, Billy Strayhorn's lustrous "Chelsea Bridge." Poole wrote three ("Out Front," "Calle Fortaleza," "Simple Song"), bassist Matt Butler, pianist Hiroki Ohsawa and tenor Joe Barga two apiece, trumpeter Austin Stunkard the greasy "Blues for Roddy." Barga, who composed "Killer Who?" and "Reflections," is the featured soloist on "Chelsea Bridge," sitting in admirably for Ben Webster. Butler wrote "Back in Tahlee" and "Maybe Next Time," Ohsawa "Forastero" and the album's three-quarter-time charmer, "3 2 Waltz."
"Out Front" presents the group at its boppish best with splendid work by the rhythm section (anchored by drummer Katy Peacock) and robust solos by Ohsawa and Barger. Stunkard's muted trumpet and Barger's nimble tenor enhance the groovy "Forastero," which leads to cogent statements by Barga, Butler and guitarist Nick Meena on "Reflections." Ohsawa, a resourceful soloist and tasteful accompanist, serves as the catalyst on his lovely "Waltz," and he and Poole share blowing space on the lively "Fortaleza." Stunkard is of course the primary soloist on "Blues for Roddy," Barger on "Killer Who?" Stunkard's mellow flugel sets the tone on the lovely "Maybe Next Time" (on which Barger also solos), and he does likewise (with Ohsawa) on Poole's Beatles-like "Simple Song," which wraps up the impressive session.
The Jazz'Tet is a bright and well-rehearsed group whose proficiency belies its undergraduate status. Full credit to Poole for that. As for Out Front, it is a conclusive pleasure to hear.
Out Front; Back in Tahlee; Forastero; Reflections; 3 2 Waltz; Calle Fortaleza; Chelsea Bridge; Bues for Roddy; Killer Who?; Maybe Next Time; Simple Song.
Tommy Poole: director, alto, soprano saxophone; Austin Stunkard: trumpet, flugelhorn; Joe Barger: tenor saxophone; Nick Meena: guitar; Hiroki Ohsawa: piano; Matt Butler: bass; Katy Peacock: drums.