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Garth Alper: Stratus

Edward Blanco By

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The fourth album as leader from pianist Garth Alper, Stratus, is a nine-piece musical portrait painted on a canvas of seven original colors and two re-imagined standards designed in the good ol' fashioned straight-ahead tradition. Dr. Alper, coordinator of Jazz Studies at the University of Louisiana (UL) in Lafayette, draws on a handful of faculty members at UL, in creating a very formidable quintet that provides "their own artistic insights" into crafting and producing the album. The result, of course, is a splendid and exciting session of straight jazz that's quite appealing.

Starting right out of the gate with one of the leader's "favorite instrumental textures: piano and bass playing in unison," "Out of the Woods" is one of the most expressive pieces of the set, with the drummer's constant beat and Alper's excellent work alongside Michael Jenner's soulful saxophone all coming together to make it one of the recording's outstanding tracks. "Quackery," was intended as a jazz shuffle and though brief, it is one of the album's faster-paced tracks, featuring Jeff George's delightful guitar romp and Jenner, with another expressive saxophone solo.

The title track is, perhaps, the most ambitious piece of the session, finding the saxophonist on soprano as the melody develops and the pianist takes over the song with more delicious keyboard strokes as Nash and Munson keep the rhythm and slow groove percolating. Clearly one of the finer tracks of the set, this one definitely deserves repeated spins for full enjoyment of one atmospheric musical experience.

The first of the two re-imagined standards here is Bud Powell's familiar "Celia," where Garth downsizes the group, with Nash and Munson rounding out this standard piano trio. Powell, one of the best bebop masters of all time, happens to be one of the pianist's favorite composers, and this rendition of his classic meets and surpasses any expectations. The Van Heusen/Burke classic, "it Could Happen to You," is the other cover, featuring Nash's superb bass lines, Munson's crisp cymbal accents and more of the leader's sprite piano work for another special treatment of this standard.

Other notable tracks include "Catharsis" and "Ode to Mr. Brubeck," with the well-centered finale, "Off Kilter," rounding out the set. Alper crafts another intriguing musical package with Stratus, a recording that contains all of the elements of a successful project—musicianship; excellent compositions; and plenty of "artistry in rhythm," as Stan Kenton would say—all resulting in an all-around pleasurable musical experience.

Track Listing: Out of the Woods; Quackery; Stratus; Celia; Garthbanzo Beans; Catharsis; Ode to Mr. Brubeck; It Could Happen to You; Off Kilter.

Personnel: Garth Alper: piano; Michael Jenner: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Bob Nash: bass; Chris Munson: drums; Jeff George: guitar.

Title: Stratus | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Self Produced

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