It would be easy, too easy, to write-off Greek-born (now U.K. resident) Vasilis Xenopoulos as yet another mainstream jazz musician. This would be a grave mistake because, as witnessed here in this, his second album, Xenopoulos breathes brave new life into old standards. Not only that, but these numbers are executed with superb skill. The Woody Herman band's "Four Brothers" kicks off sharply and smartly followed by "The Groove Merchant." Already the listener can discern a class act in the shape of all the musicians featured here, constituting something of a nascent British jazz supergroup.
Steve Fishwick on trumpet reaches for inventive phrasing others would decline to pursue, never going for an easy option or well-worn cliché, whilst Xenopoulos himself has a full relaxed tenor tone and an articulate style. The dexterous Bill Mudge on organ proves that in this context the quintet really has no need for the addition of a bassist, whilst the renowned Pete Cater adds dynamic impact to the drums.
But the real ace in the pack, and someone whom it would pay to follow, is guitarist Nigel Price, who surely must be one of the best exponents of this instrument in Great Britain today. Price's comping alone is something at which to marvel but his soloing is spectacular and ranges in style from fast Wes Montgomery octaves to out and out rock, often within the same number.
The Latin-tinged "Tin Tin Deo" is all-too rarely heard so the version here is especially welcome as is Freddie Green's ebullient "Corner Pocket." Bob Brookmeyer's "The Fun Club" really takes flight in the ensemble passages, Xenoupoulos shining here too with assured confidence.
If there were any lingering doubts as to Nigel Price's extraordinary abilities and range, the title track confounds these reservations instantly; Sammy Nestico's high octane "The Wind Machine" is definitely not a tune in which to falter. The medley of Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss/Sophisticated Lady" begins with stunning guitar virtuosity but also showcases the talents of the group's leader, as Xenopolouos treats his audience to a truly elegant and sensitive tenor solo on the latter composition. Neil Hefti's "Splanky" is given a groove-laden reading, with the trumpet and sax bouncing off alternate speakers, whilst Price lays into yet another fast and fluid guitar solo.
In the final number, "Playhouse," feisty guitar is underpinned by combined dynamic of swirling organ and deft, hard-hitting drums, including a welcome solo from Cater. This swinging quintet has energy and panache and successfully bestows on these timeless classics the respect they demand.
Four Brothers; The Groove Merchant; Tin Tin Deo; Corner Pocket; The Fun Club; The Wind Machine; Prelude to a Kiss/Sophisticated Lady; Splanky; Playhouse.
Vasilis Xenopoulos: tenor saxophone; Steve Fishwick: trumpet; Nigel Price: guitar; Bill Mudge: organ; Pete Cater: drums
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