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Peter Schwebs: Stories From Sugar Hill

Bruce Lindsay By

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Bassist Peter Schwebs may have only completed his graduate studies in 2008, but he is already an experienced sideman with some major jazz figures, including Dave Liebman, and Chris Potter. On the evidence of Stories From Sugar Hill, his first album as leader, he is more than ready to take center stage. Schwebs composed all of the tunes, inspired by his three-year stay in the Sugar Hill area of Manhattan, their positive and optimistic nature reflecting his obvious love of the area.

Schwebs' early years as a musician in his native Germany gave him a solid grounding, and his studies at Hanover University led to a Fulbright Scholarship to New York University in 2006. For Stories From Sugar Hill, Schwebs brings together a group of talented young musicians, including the fine pianist Julian Waterfall Pollack, augmented by veteran tenor saxophonist George Garzone and highly-regarded drummer, Ari Hoenig.

Schwebs' compositions are strong—not yet invested with a clearly personal and unique signature, perhaps, but blessed with a genuine humanity. The title of "Crisis '08" suggests a problem time, a period of uncertainty, perhaps, but is belied by the music; there are moments that hint at anxiety or hesitation, but it's the tune's drive and energy that are communicated most clearly. "Swedish Friend" is another mid-tempo tune that still delivers a real sense of drive and positivity, with guitarist Douglas Bradford and tenor saxophonist Ben Kraef taking lead roles and demonstrating rich, warm tones.

The quieter, more reflective pieces show that Schwabs is as capable of composing ballads as he is of writing more up-tempo tunes. "Larissa" is a beautifully languid number. Garzone plays tenor saxophone with consummate ease, delivering a solo that has a real emotional connection to Schwabs' theme. Pollack adds color to the tune, complementing Garzone's tenor with his own delicate solo. "In-between Seasons and Places" is equally lovely, but has its own distinct atmosphere—a duet on which Schwabs and Bradford skilfully—and almost imperceptibly—swap their positions as lead and supporting players.

Garzone also plays on the bop-style "Cat Bites Dog," trading short, jagged phrases with Kraef before the rest of the band kicks in. From that point on, the track swings terrifically, thanks to Hoenig and Schwebs: Pollack makes the most of this, constructing a deftly-played piano solo. "NE Exit" has its own quiet beauty—a slow to medium tempo tune, with a funky rhythm courtesy of drummer Nick Anderson. His style is more solid and straight-ahead than Hoenig's—less subtle, perhaps—but it suits perfectly the tune's groove and Schwebs' bass lines.

Stories From Sugar Hill is yet another demonstration of the wealth of talent to be found in the younger generation of jazz musicians. Schwebs can play, write, and lead a tight, talented combo, and this excellent debut as a leader marks the young bassist as one to watch.

Track Listing: On Sugar Hill; Swedish Friend; Autumn-ish NY; Crisis '08; Larissa; Cat Bites Dog; In-between Seasons and Places; NE Exit.

Personnel: Ben Kraef: tenor saxophone; Douglas Bradford: guitar; Julian Pollack: piano; Peter Schwebs: bass; Ari Hoenig: drums (1-7); George Garzone: tenor saxophone (4-6); Nick Anderson: drums (8).

Title: Stories From Sugar Hill | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: LAIKA-Records


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