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The Power Quintet at Jazz Standard

Dan Bilawsky By

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The Power Quintet
Jazz Standard
New York, NY
December 3, 2016

The age of the collective-minded outfit in jazz is upon us. While the concept of democratically-driven bands is hardly new or unique, more and more artists seem to be taking to the idea with gusto, pooling their talents and resources for the greater good. Such artistic and business arrangements give everybody an opportunity to share in the responsibility load, play multiple roles all at once, and use their distinctive personality traits to good advantage in a group, without the worries that come with point-person leadership. The Power Quintet—the all-star combination of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Bill Stewart—aspires to such ideals and heights.

This new venture, born on a fairly recent European tour and documented on High Art (HighNote Records 2016), is built to deliver high-octane jazz in a pleasurable post-bop vein. That fact was made crystal clear during the late set on the band's second night of a multi-night run at New York's Jazz Standard. Pelt's horn sounded the alarm that set off his own "Baswald's Place," and the band immediately responded in kind with some hard-driving swing. The trumpeter's blustery blowing, with horn bell swallowing the mic, set the scene before he relinquished the stage to Nelson and Grissett. The vibraphonist and pianist had ears wide open, as one played off of the ping-ponging octaves that the other doled out, and each served up stellar solos before Pelt returned to bring it on home.

A more relaxed swing feel took hold when the quintet moved on to "Ascona," the first of several tracks in the set that appear on High Art. Pelt took a more lyrical approach, keeping his distance from the microphone and dialing-down the intensity, and Nelson and Grissett followed suit. All the while, Washington and Stewart kept things moving smoothly with sterling support.

The head-solos-head formula proved to be the bread-and-butter for this band, as many songs were essentially blowing tunes. But the high-level soloing, mutable comping, and little twists took the music a step past most performances in this structural realm. As the set played out, the quintet continued to tweak moods and styles. A hypnotic introduction gave way to intense offerings on the follow-up to "Ascona." Stewart's four-on-the-floor hi-hat pulse and floor tom punctuations brought Tony Williams to mind, Pelt delivered a powerful solo punctuated by silences that served as breathers, Grissett took a more firm-handed approach to his piano spot, and strong interplay was evident in the music.

After engaging in such heated musical discourse, the quintet slowed things down for a gorgeously-rendered "But Beautiful." Stewart's brushes painted fragility, Washington stepped out for his lone solo of the night, and every other soloist traced around the melody and changes without ever going all-in for those familiar strains. It was a welcome respite from The Power Quintet's power playing, but only a brief detour. Monk's quirky "We See" brought them back to bop-based swing, but it was hardly a standard Monk affair. Nelson caught fire, even throwing in a quick "Surrey With The Fringe On Top" quote during a double-time run, and Stewart brilliantly flirted with metric modulation in several ways and at several times. The drummer's solo—his only true off-the-leash moment of the night—was a clear highlight. His chops, clarity, and independence are second to none, and he proved that in no time. While it's still too early to know if this band will continue, the promise shown with its debut and on-the-bandstand dynamics certainly warrant future work.

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