You don't hear much about the Denver jazz scene, but bassist Ken Walker's Terra Firma provides incontrovertible evidence that there are at least six splendid jazz musicians working in that city. Walker's sextet includes drummer Paul Romaine, tenor man Peter Sommer, trumpeter Al Hood, guitarist Dave Corbus, and pianist Jeff Jenkins. Their 2002 session is an antidote to ears fatigued by the mathematical tempos and hypervirtuosity of the contemporary New York scenewonderful though it is. Instead, it's hard bop and post bop swing throughout, and when it's this magnificently performed, it's thrilling, vital, and utterly relevant music.
The recording offers a mixture of four fine Walker originals, one composition by Jenkins, and six cover tunes. The covers, though, are refreshingly under-performed gemsnot the usual Herbie Hancock or Wayne Shorter pieces that groups playing this style seem always to choose. Instead, we get the likes of George Coleman's fantastic "Amsterdam After Dark, Alec Winter's "Blackberry Winter, and Mel Martin's "Song for M : impeccable choices if properly performed, and are they ever.
Eddie Harris' "Velocity is jabbing, up-tempo hard bop with a breakneck trumpet/sax head and thick bass from Walker that threads between the other musicians with sewing-maching precision. There's a Freddie Hubbard-style trumpet solo from Hood, a typically lilting, joyous break from Jenkins, and robust, across-the-beat tenor work from Sommer that covers all the octaves in the horn.
Jenkins is the standout player here, though. A New Yorker who relocated to Denver, he provides pure pleasure throughout the session; his imaginative left-handed chords and long, cascading lines make everyone sound better. Whether he's channeling the 1970s sunshine optimism of Keith Jarrett (think Jarrett's "The Windup ) on his own tune "Highlife, or comping alongside Corbus' guitar solo in Walker's "Ms. P & P, he's an exciting, noticeable presence. Corbus and Jenkins have the same role in this music, so Corbus very much takes a subdued role on this session; he lays out on some of the songs entirely, and on the aforementioned "Ms. P & P he emerges only to comp minimally around Walker's playful, bump 'n run bass solo and lay down his own crisp, singing solo. Then he disappears. His situation's an extreme onebut all of these players stay out of each other's way admirably.
The title track is an eight-minute Walker composition that feels like the album's masterpiece. Romaine's churning drums start things off and never really let up: the tune climaxes with a drum solo that doesn't stop even as the head recurs at the end of the song. The leader seems well-named, as his walking bass on this track is just devastating; one almost hesitates to call such rubbery, swinging, virtuosic playing "walking bass, but it is. Walker and Romaine provide such a solid rhythmic foundation here that there's little need for piano compingand Jenkins therefore provides only the tastiest amount. The soloists all excel here.
But then, they excel throughout. This is the "who are these guys? album of the year.
1. Amsterdam After Dark 2. Velocity 3. Ms. P & P 4. Blackberry Winter 5. Terra Firma 6. Highlife 7. Song For M 8. Just One of Those Things 9. Mi Nena 10. Blues for P.K. 11. Boogie Woogie Bossa Nova
Al Hood: trumpet/flugelhorn; Peter Sommer: tenor saxophone; Dave Corbus: guitar; Jeff Jenkins: piano; Ken Walker: bass; Paul Romaine: drums
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