On its first full-length album, the modestly named Simply This Quintet boasts a sturdy two-tenor front line (Reginald Lewis, Matthew Storie) and an able rhythm section (Jesus Fuentes, piano; Emma Taylor, bass; Frank Kurtz, drums) performing eight original compositions by members of the group. The quintet was formed in 2018 by friends at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Its goal, according to the album's liner notes, is "reinterpreting the classic two- tenor saxophone jazz ensembles of the 1950s and '60s in a modern jazz idiom through composition and performance of their original music."
In keeping with its low-key profile, solos by Lewis and Storie aren't designated; it is up to the listener, if he or she deems it important, to figure out which one is playing at a given time and there isn't enough disparity in style or substance to make that a pressing issue. Suffice to say that Lewis and Storie play well but neither has reached a level of identity that would separate him from the herd; that remains years away, if it is indeed plausible. Meanwhile, enjoy what the twosome have accomplished to date, as it is splendid on its own terms.
The music traverses a similar path: essentially proficient without eclipsing any yardsticks or crossing any boundaries. Given that the purpose was to retrace the '50s and '60s from a 2021 perspective, mission accomplished. The themes presented here would be at home in either era, starting with Fuentes' melodic "Aftershock" and continuing through Kurtz' forceful closer, "Synergy." Lewis' buoyant "Blues for the Village" is a highlight, as is Storie's "Stepping Up" (reminiscent of a venerable bop classic whose melody lingers on but whose name is just out of reach). Taylor's "Impostor Syndrome" isn't far behind, nor are Fuentes' "The Wanderer," Kurtz' "Taurus" or Lewis' "Simply This." In other words, everything is decidedly well-written. As for solos, they are admirably designed and delivered, with everyone given at least one chance to express his/her point of view.
In sum, an above-average debut by a young quintet that is making a name for itself in southern Illinois and may soon spread its wings to welcome a wider audience.
Aftershock; Imposter Syndrome; Stepping Up; The Wanderer; Taurus; Simply This; Blues for the