A new-century octet that pays loving homage to the old school while looking ahead. Michel and company combine a reverence for prior jazz forms with an adventurous spirit as they tackle nine original compositions by the guitarist/leader.
One might immediately notice the presence of drummer Gerald Cleaver, who is perhaps better known for hanging around avant-garde circles (i.e., his recent work with Matthew Shipp’s New Orbit) than playing in a more mainstream context like this. Cleaver’s presence adds the push and flow necessary to keep Michel’s band from sounding like an average repertory group. Even when the horns navigate the Dixieland-flavored “Jitterbug” (inappropriately named, as the dance just wouldn’t fly here), Cleaver punctuates his basic swing rhythms with flourishes and rolls that would do Art Blakey proud. Though none of the other musicians bear household-name status, all of them are capable performers with the good sense of jazz heritage that this music requires, along with modern ears that lead them to new ground.
“Les Can” is a highlight, nodding to the funk-piano stylings of Les McCann, and “N.O. Blues” is a slow, easy walk down Bourbon Street that is updated by the leader’s hot blues sensibility. Michel plays a high-tech Klein guitar with an approach that might be better suited to an acoustic, or at least an archtop. Sometimes he seems too reserved to be using such a potentially formidable instrument. The Klein’s tone is best suited to the shimmering “Song for Tomorrow”, a meditative piece with a suspended feel. Michel does a fine job throughout; he’s certainly got some solid ideas of how to move a piece along and construct a solo. His compositions are also of interest, though a higher level of energy might be desirable at times. Fans of the Phil Norman Tentet and older styles of jazz in general will most likely enjoy what Michel’s group has to offer.
Les Can; Skippin
Carl Michel, guitar; Gerald Cleaver, drums; Tim Flood, bass; Mike Graye, alto sax; Andrew Bishop, tenor sax and clarinet; Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet and flugelhorn; Chris Smith, trombone; Ellen Rowe, piano.