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The New York Standards Quartet: The New Straight Ahead

Edward Blanco By

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The New York Standards Quartet (NYSQ) delivers their fourth overall album and their first for the Whirlwind Recording label on The New Straight Ahead, where the band offers a repertoire of ten familiar songs presented with a new modern twist which, incidentally, has become the group's raison d'etre. Founded in 2006, NYSQ have focused their musical efforts on taking old pop and Broadway show tunes and giving them a new radical design by tweaking the melodies and reconstructing harmonies to present straight ahead standards in an all new fashion.

Though reimagining oft-recorded standards is not a new formula, since it's been done so often by many other artists, the approach applied here—a sometimes drastic re-work of the melody and structure of a song—tends to make such standards sound all most new. Such is the case with Herbie Hancock's "The Maze," which opens up with a strong bass introduction from Daiki Yasukagawa then hands it off to the band with Tim Armacost leading the way on the tenor in a burner of a rendition.

Armacost's unrecognizable soprano solo introduction to Duke Ellington's classic "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing), is just the beginning of a terrific tune that, with the improvisations and direction-changing choruses, sounds nowhere near the standard one is used to hearing but, is nevertheless incredibly engaging. Pianist David Berkman opens up the beautiful standard "When You Wish Upon a Star" playing the familiar melody on the intro before the band takes it into new territory for another "Whirlwind" version.

The most important non-American standard penned by French Composer Joseph Kosma as "Les Feuilles Mortes" (The Dead Leaves), forever known as "Autumn Leaves," starts a new with a firm drum solo from Gene Jackson then develops nicely from its recognizable melody and evolves into an upbeat peppery tune departing drastically from the original balladic foundation of the song.

Other notable tracks include "Zingaro," "Misterioso" and "Remember" with short vignettes "Intro (Polka dots)" and "Outro (Moonbeams)," from Jimmy Van Heusen's "Polka dots and Moonbeams" opening and closing the album. One thing is for certain, The New Straight Ahead is firmly grounded in the straight ahead tradition and beyond that, one will find that the music of NYSQ does more than cast old standards with new arrangements, they give old tunes new life, new meaning an a new reason for hearing them again.

Track Listing: Intro (Polkadots); The Maze; It Don't Mean A Thing; When You Wish Upon A Star; Autumn Leaves; Misterioso; Ah-leu-cha; Zingaro; Remember; Outro (and Moonbeams).

Personnel: Tim Armacost: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; David Berkman: piano; Daiki Yasukagawa: double bass; Gene Jackson: drums.

Title: The New Straight Ahead | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings Ltd

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