At times, saxophonist Roxy Coss
can appear to be a whirlwind. Over the past decade, Coss has firmly established herself as a saxophonist, bandleader, composer, and activist. She has toured extensively, most notably with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt
. She founded Women In Jazz Organization (WIJO) to combat misogyny in jazz culture, and create gender equity in terms of opportunity and community. With the release of her new album, Quintet
(Outside In Music, 2019), she has now authored five recordings under her name.
While Coss gained some international buzz from her albums Restless Idealism
(Origin, 2016) and Chasing the Unicorn
(Posi-Tone, 2017), her brilliant 2018 release The Future Is Female
(Posi-Tone, 2018) highlighted her ability to express a social narrative through jazz music. Her finely-crafted compositions, rooted deeply in her experiences as a female jazz musician, were interpreted admirably by her long-term working quintet. Quintet
is an attempt to re-record her compositions from those previous recordings and concurrent time performing them live with her quintet. Anyone sceptical about that concept will be convinced otherwise by one listen to this album's eight tracks.
While Coss places the emphasis on her fine quintet, and the intuitive vibe they have established among themselves, it is she herself who stands out as the reason to revisit these tunes in a live-in-the-studio setting. While so much of her time, in the past few years, has been spent composing, and forming the impressive work of WIJO, this record is more representative of her upward spiral as a saxophonist. While her articulation and deep resonant tone on tenor have always been of note, there is a noticeable improvement in her playing on both tenor and soprano. That liberation in itself has added depth and substance to the restatement of the tunes she has written over the past 10 years. The familiarity she has gained with fellow front-line band mate guitarist Alex Wintz
now approaches the kind of chemistry normally thought of between two horn players. Drummer Jimmy Macbride
, pianist Miki Yamanaka
, and bassist Rick Rosato
complete a quintet that has achieved a rare conversational impulse.
The opener "Don't Cross the Coss" is performed at a faster tempo, turning this rollicking, meandering melody line into modern bop classic. The tune exemplifies the stated purpose of the recording, to unleash the hounds, as one might say. Coss' tenor statement is angular, fast-paced and melodically rich all at once. Yamanaka's well placed, resonant comps on Rhodes act as departure points for a fine solo from Wintz before she launches into her own reharmonization.
"Mr. President," Coss' march-like romp from The Future is Female
, is given new light and energy, immersing the listener in a narrative heartbeat that throbs in every American's chest each day. Macbride explores the rhythmic variations of the composition masterfully, while Coss takes off on the record's most memorable solo. There is a notable vibrancy to the tune, compared to the original recording, a feeling that can only be gained through familiarity over time. This tune pays the most dividends on the album in terms of a reinterpretation of a tune being a positive progression forward creatively.
"Free to Be," one of the highlights of Chasing the Unicorn
, features Coss on soprano. This interpretation does not stray much from the former in terms of energy or interpretation. It does offer Coss playing at a higher level. In any case, the playing is spontaneous and free, as the instrumentalist shakes off the constraints of the composer.
"Enlightenment," an earlier entry in Coss' compositional timeline, presents a tender side of her playing, sounding much like a country ballad in Charlie Haden
-like fashion. Rosato's deep underpinning holds up Coss' big-sounding tenor throughout this lovely piece.
In the end, the reason to spend time with this album is the bandleader herself. It is her inventive shifts, melodic platitudes and marvelous technique that rise above the fray of this very capable quintet. While the pieces of Coss' collective characterization as an artist have become more coherent and familiar, it is the saxophonist that we need to take notice of. Yes, she is an impressive composer, and her social activism is an inspiration to anyone who seeks justice in America's most important art form. Quintet
tells us simply that she is a fine saxophonist in the midst of a meteoric rise.