During the past decade of working the jazz clubs of New York, German tenor saxophonist Tobias Meinhart
has soaked up every inch of the musical tradition he started pursuing as a drummer in Bavaria in his early teens. A keen ear for melodic development, a gift for harmonic oversight and the whims for rhythmic intricacy already graced the saxophonist's last outing, Berlin People
(Sunnyside, 2018), featuring the distinctive playing of Kurt Rosenwinkel
. On The Painter
, however, Meinhart has now also found his very own voice and presents an hour-long set full of swinging originals, backed by an all-star cast of New Yorker cats.
The opener, "White Bear," is an indication pointing towards the meticulous and hard-hitting interplay that unfolds during the course of the album. For drummer Obed Calvaire
and bassist Matt Penman
's tight-nit introductory conversation speaks volumes about the impeccable musicianship on display throughout the set. After a minute-long, narrowly-executed snare, hi-hat, bass-drum workout to articulate bass ruminations, the remaining band members enter the scene, instrument-by-instrument, before Meinhart's saxophone and Charles Altura
's reverb-drenched guitar present the gloomy head of the composition in unison. As on Meinhart's last album, the saxophonist's background as a drummer makes itself known through the curvy and angular rhythmic parts with whixch he underscores his music. And Calvaire's fierce dedication to his kit is more than up to the job, as he draws spontaneous and beat-concentric patterns around hot guitar and saxophone solos. It is modern jazz for sure, but there is something fundamentally traditional about the way the musicians interact here and on the remaining cuts of the record.
Essentially a core-quartet affair, with pianist Eden Ladin
capably nourishing the harmonic outlines of Meinhart's sketches. Altura and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen
occasionally drop in for guest appearances, adding well-tempered and characterful performances to tunes that seem cut out for them. Jensen's first appearance, on "Oak Tree," is a notable exercise in soloist development, coloring soaring lines of lush timbre into a spacious ballad that gives her all the room she needs to unfold completely. Her role on "Bird Song," on the other hand, is the exact opposite, as she embellishes a driven ostinato- based exercise with screeching sound etchings on her horn, expanding on the atmospheric nature of Ladin's Rhodes layers and keyboard effects.
"Movement" is packed with post-bop flair, seeing Meinhart's tenor navigating through the changes with a nod to John Coltrane
, as the saxophonist's tone and timbre channel the My Favorite Things
(Atlantic, 1961)-era of Coltrane's playing. Some of the best trio interplay between piano, drums and bass appears on the second half of the track, followed by old-school vamps with cunning sax, piano and drum trades. The title track picks up on the Coltrane-esque tinge in Meinhart's playing, this time rather from the tenor legend's Impressions
(Impulse!, 1963 )-era modal jazz work, and showcases dynamic group interplay over an extensive form that rotates passages of elaboration and build-up with deconstructed bits in an unconventional and tense way.
On "Neowise," Obed Calvaire brings back the more physical side of his playing, derailing another entangled rhythmic workout that drives straight into a vamp section, before "The Last Dance" demonstrates further terrific saxophone and piano playing in a modal jazz guise. When Meinhart goes as far as adding his own vocals on the head of "Dreamers" he indeed reveals the only questionable choice made on the album, but at the same time it's that kind of carefree attitude and feeling of freedom to do whatever fits which has characterized jazz music for almost a century, confirming that Meinhart is right where he belongs. For the instrumental purists, there's plenty to enjoy and take in on the nine cuts that precede the closer, with an intimate duo between the tenor and pianist Eden Ladin on "Estate" being another highlight. Meinhart's playing has been pristine for a while now, but on The Painter
he seems to have figured out how to frame his chops and give them real purpose.
White Bear; Oak Tree; Movement; The Painter (Intro); The Painter; Bird Song; Estate; Neowise; The Last Dance;