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Alex Delcourt: The French Quarter

Victor L. Schermer By

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This is the debut album of bassist Alex Delcourt, a young man who grew up in Paris and came to the U.S. to become involved in the jazz scene, where he has been composing, working as a sideman, and leading his own groups in and around Philadelphia and New York. A recipient of the Catherine R. and Anthony A. Clifton Foundation award for Music Performance, he has been studying intensively with bassist Steve Beskrone and has been a member of the University of the Arts "Z" Band, which won the award for best college jazz band at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Now, with the release of this album, he shows what he can do with original compositions, leading a quintet with a hard bop emphasis that also embodies the flavor of Paris on a quiet day.

The album's title should not be taken as a reference to the New Orleans neighborhood, but rather, as the cover picture of a bass fiddle forming a bridge over the Seine would suggest, expressing instead the subtle influence of the Paris jazz scene, with an ever so slight hint of gypsy jazz. Delcourt's original compositions have memorable turns of phrase and provide vehicles for a refreshingly gentle and reflective kind of playing made for hearing in laid back moments in a quiet pied-a-terre rather than in a car on a freeway.

The first tune, "Paper Plane," sets the tone with a gentle melody that quickly breaks out into hard bop swing. A flavorful piano solo by Nathaniel Hawk is followed by Andrew Pereira on alto saxophone in a style heavily influenced by Benny Golson. Delcourt's soft but assertive bass solo and comping offers a pleasant and skillful alternative to the hard-hitting string-pulling acoustic bass playing that is making the rounds in 2018. The next tune, "San Francisco" is a reflective, bluesy ballad stated and carried forward in improvisation by a synthesizer sound which is close to the sonority of a flute.

"The Zone" revolves around major thirds and dominant notes. Guitarist Zion Fritzinger delivers a solo that has echoes of Jim Hall. Pereira's saxophone carries something of (the very early) Wayne Shorter's influence. At the conclusion, the whole ensemble delivers a series of beautiful tone colors. Overall, the album is indebted to the ways in which the early hard bop movement rendered ballads.

"Transition" is a pentatonic French impressionist theme introduced by Hawk's piano. Delcourt's arco bass playing is gorgeous, sounding almost like Pablo Casals' cello. The finale, "Malunininkas Flowers" recapitulates the lively swing of the first track, with Conner Saltzer elegantly carrying the rhythm forward on the ride cymbal. The whole group comes together to convey the theme, and Fritzinger delivers extended melodic lines in an exploratory guitar solo that brings the album to an auspicious end.

With this album, Delcourt shows that he is one to watch and hear. His well-crafted tunes, Parisian influence, finely articulated bass, and commitment to his own way of playing have all the earmarks of a serious contributor to the evolving jazz scene.

Track Listing: Paper Plane; San Francisco; The Zone; Transition; Malunininkas Flowers.

Personnel: Alex Delcourt: bass; Andrew Pereira: alto sax; Zion Fritzinger: guitar; Nathaniel Hawk: piano; Conner Saltzer: drums.

Title: The French Quarter | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Self Produced

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