Imagine a group that, in large measure, references the bebop revolution of nearly seventy-five years ago, yet steers clear of the pitfalls of nostalgia, hero worship, and blatant imitation, and ultimately wins the day with an adroit blend of teamwork and compelling individual voices. For those who believe that nothing good can come from contemporary players choosing to work an all-too-familiar vein of the jazz tradition, I suggest a visit with Dmitry Baevsky's band. Over the past several years, the alto saxophonist's quartet featuring pianist Jeb Patton, bassist David Wong, and drummer Joe Strasser, has often performed at Smalls Jazz Club in New York City. The fruits of their labor are documented for the first time in The Day After, Baevsky's sixth record date as a leader.
One of the record's primary strengths is the lasting impression made by the heads, leaving no doubt that they're as important as the solos that follow. The material feels lived-in, savored, respected, as opposed to expediently worked up for the record date. The group fully realizes a number of expressive perspectives. Baevsky's "Would You?," the opening track, is a graceful, courtly jazz waltz. Duke Pearson's "Chant" manages to wax shrewd and soulful without being too obvious about it. Patton's lickety-split "The Wise Ones" contains a number of dazzling twists and turns. Tom McIntosh's "The Day After" is a convincingly melancholy ballad. Victor Young's "Delilah" evinces a seductive, unhurried vibe. Much of the substance in these tracks lies in the details, such as the easy, natural sounding ways in which Patton supports and/or joins Baeveky in playing the melodies. Or, the exemplary hook-up between Wong and Strasser, in which the bassist lays down a sturdy, feel-good foundation that enables the drummer to use every component of his kit to make all manner of remarks about a song while remaining in the pocket.
The band's primary soloists, Baevsky and Patton, emerge in ways that display an acute awareness of the group as a whole. Throughout his turn on "Would You?," Baevsky persuasively asserts himself without becoming particularly verbose or forceful; often leaving enough space between tart, relatively concise phrases to allow the voices of each accompanying instrument to take effect. The title track finds him in an assertive ballad mode, gradually expanding and imaginatively building in strength without completely breaking ties to the tune's the melody. Patton's "Chant" solo is noteworthy for stability amidst changes in velocity and emphasis, as he leans against Wong's earthy walking bass, suddenly skips away from it with breathless single note lines, and invariably finds unexpected places to snap back into place. Left to his own devices at the onset of Baevsky's "Rollin'" and near the end of "Delilah," Strasser makes a deep impression with meticulous sticking and mallet strokes, a genuine feel for structure, and the ability to tell a story minus any extraneous details.
For anyone who appreciates shrewdly chosen material, a cohesive, interactive group sound, and solos that are nicely integrated into the whole presentation, I heartily recommend The Day After.
Would You?; Rollin'; Chant; Minor Delay; Hotel Baudin; The Wise Ones; The Day
After; Four Seven Nine One; Delilah; I've Told Every Little Star.
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