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Roxy Coss Quintet at Cecil's Jazz Club

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Roxy Coss Quintet
Cecil's Jazz Club
West Orange, NJ
July 23, 2010

During her April 2008 senior recital at William Paterson University, Roxy Coss was the epitome of an enterprising collegiate jazz musician. In addition to two of her own pieces, Coss presented material by composers ranging from the indie rock group Modest Mouse, to J.S. Bach, to John Coltrane. She employed various combinations of a seven piece band, and displayed an impressive command of the tenor, soprano, and flute. It was clear that Coss had laid the groundwork for a productive career.

As evidenced by a one hour and twenty minute opening set at Cecil's Jazz Club, in the two years since the recital Coss has grown in leaps and bounds as a composer, improviser, and bandleader. Coss' compositions (five out of six of the set's selections) ranged from "Wandering One," a bright, pretty melody in three-four time, to "The Slow Ascent," a slightly dour funk line, to "Enlightenment," a slow, rather subdued song with a gospel feel. There was a continuity between the acoustic selections and those which featured the electric bass of Matt Aronoff and Matt Kanelos' electric keyboard.

As a soloist Coss forsakes facile virtuosity in favor of meticulous development. There's a steadfast quality to her playing which is seldom provoked by the glorious clatter of Shawn Baltazor's drums. (Baltazor and Aronoff were two of Coss' cohorts in her WPU recital.) She's insular, poised, and centered. Coss' tenor on "The Slow Ascent" had a slightly breathy sound which got thicker as she progressed. Without morphing into a stereotypical R & B shouter, she executed neatly packed groups of soulful tones, pushed combinations of three and four notes into place, and juxtaposed low blurry tones and high braying cries.

In keeping with the notion of showcasing all facets of her talent, Coss wisely opted to bring her own group into Cecil's. Coss' band mates, most of who have been with her during a long term Monday night residence at the New York City restaurant 181 Cabrini, play her music well and have something meaningful to say as soloists. Not unlike the leader, trumpeter Kate Miller (who doubles on flugelhorn) eschews theatrics and takes her time in developing themes. One highlight was a turn on "Sweeter Side," which featured high note Latin flourishes and tightly knit groups of notes which jounced against one another. The most adventurous of the three primary soloists, Kanelous displayed a penchant for spreading out prickly combinations of notes. His "Sonnymoon For Two" improvisation built a path of single notes and chords, paused to make a handful of chords ring out in rhyme, initiated a rough, uneven phrase and then quickly found a way to complete it.

. While Aronoff did an admirable job of holding things together, Baltazor acted as the band's mischief-maker. Unlike a lot of young drummers whose adaptation of various kinds of rhythms sounds compartmentalized, Baltazor mixes and matches jazz, funk, and Latin rhythms with ease. Hyperactive in a manner that stopped short of bombast, he constantly provoked the soloists, who, by and large, didn't take the bait. Baltazor and Aronoff had no problem maintaining continuity while moving in and out of a steady pulse on "Sonnymoon For Two" and "Wandering One." Off kilter fills and a punchy bass drum added a slippery dimension to the otherwise solid head of "Sonnymoon For Two." A decidedly non-monotonous, funk-oriented groove on "The Slow Ascent" was laced with cymbal slashes and rim shots. Baltazor's non-purest approach was laid bare during a solo on "Quiescence and Quantum Leaps," the last tune of the Cecil's set (and Coss' WPU recital, as well). Bursting with energy and a keen intelligence, combinations of pounding Latin and Rock rhythms deconstructed any notions of stylistic decorum.

By the end of the performance one thing was readily apparent. Coss is head and shoulders above many of the gifted, well-schooled young people who are trying to get a toehold in the intensely competitive NYC jazz and improvised music scenes. Her multiple talents are worthy of wider recognition, right now.

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