Whenever a bassist leads a quintet recording one of two things is possible: he is either (a) smarter or (b) dumber than the other players. I don’t know Geoff Cooke’s I.Q. but his credentials are quite impressive B.S. in music from the University of Colorado (Cooke hails from Denver), classes with Reggie Workman at the New School in NYC, an NEA fellowship for private study with Buster Williams, performance credits with Kevin Mahogany, Jack Walrath, Holly Hoffman, Greg Abate, Ernestine Anderson, David “Fathead” Newman, Freddy Cole and other headliners.
Oh, and he writes too (six of the nine compositions on See You at the Bridge are Cooke’s). If there’s a word that best describes Cooke’s approach, that word perhaps is “easygoing.” Nearly everything flows as smoothly as the water beneath that bridge on the album’s cover (which, by the way, is in Torino, Italy). Only the rhythmic “Bakithi’s Line” (dedicated to South African bassist Bakithi Khumalo) and Freddie Hubbard’s boppish “On the Q.T.” embody a measure of fire and brimstone, and it is here that the quintet shines brightest with muscular solos by everyone but the leader (who says he enjoys improvising but is quite happy chaperoning the others).
Pianist Ryan Burns is especially engaging on the flag-wavers, as he is on the album’s lone trio selection, the supple “St. Stephen” (written in honor the late drummer Stephen Joseph). The front line of trumpeter Tony Grasso and tenor saxophonist Brian Kent is wholly capable but less than remarkable, while drummer Jose Martinez goes about his work with unruffled efficiency. As is usually the case, Cooke’s resonant bass is most conspicuous on the slower numbers, “St. Stephen” and his fond tribute to Gerry Mulligan / Chet Baker and the “West Coast” sound, “When Sunny Gets Blue” (on which he fashions one of his infrequent solos). This is a respectable debut album for Cooke and his quintet, but one whose many pleasing moments are uninterrupted by the kind of electricity that causes one to react with unreserved excitement.
Contact: Consolidated Artists Productions, 290 Riverside Drive, Suite 11–D, New York, NY 10025. Geoff Cooke, 425-258-4268; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web site, www.jazzbeat.com