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Alex Delcourt: To My Brothers

Victor L. Schermer By

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This album by bassist Alex Delcourt is a treasure of a recording, a contemporary mirror of the hard bop movement of the past. It's as if that music awakened from its sleep years later and is as fresh today as it was then. Except for seasoned valve trombonist and trumpeter John Swana, the personnel consists of younger musicians doing the rounds of local clubs in Philadelphia, developing their chops and ideas by doing gigs. This accounts for their spontaneity and responsiveness to one another as they draw inspiration from their predecessors from the heady era of hard bop.

Because of their youth and their likely unfamiliarity to those outside the Philadelphia area, a brief introduction to each of the musicians is in order. Bassist and leader Alex Delcourt was born in Versailles, France, and played bass in Paris before coming to Philadelphia to immerse himself in the American jazz scene. Guitarist Zion Fritzinger and pianist Nathaniel Hawk both hail from Bethlehem, PA and relocated to Philadelphia to immerse themselves in jazz study and performing. Hawk was heavily influenced by Kenny Barron while Fritzinger was influenced by horn players such as Cannonball Adderley, Chet Baker, and Kenny Dorham. He also studied guitar with Kurt Rosenwinkel.

Tenor saxophonist Henry Tirfe was raised in Upper Darby, PA, and has performed with a wide variety of artists such as Solange Knowles and The Roots. Tirfe cites John Coltrane and Michael Brecker as his main saxophone influences. Trumpeter Elliot Bild grew up on the northwest side of Chicago and recently moved to Philadelphia to earn his master's degree at Temple University. He was strongly influenced in both playing and composing by Randy Brecker and Joe Henderson. Drummer Steve Perry is originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan and recently relocated to Philadelphia. Already a virtuoso drummer, he is currently studying vibraphone with Tony Miceli and Mike Moreno. Valve trombonist John Swana is the most seasoned and well-known member of the septet. He has been revered over the years for his mastery of the subtleties of trumpet improvisation for which he has few rivals.

The tracks for the recording consist of Delcourt originals along with two popular French songs in acknowledgement of his origins there. The young guys do what most jazz players do. They emulate the great ones, but each is beginning to find a distinctive voice of his own. In this album, the resemblance to specific hard bop musicians is so uncanny at times that it could be heard as a tribute album to them.

The album begins with "Poseiden," an upbeat hard bop tune that opens with a Wes Montgomery-like guitar intro which leads into a well-crafted Dexter Gordon-flavored solo by Tirf. Hawk's lively piano is comped with a steady bass walk by Delcourt. Fritizinger's guitar shifts style with a reverb echo that gives a spacious feeling to the sound. Perry's Art Blakey-like drumming takes the tune out. By contrast, "To My Brothers" offers a gentle melody stated by sax and trumpet in octaves, followed by a long, smooth solo by Tirfe. Trumpet and guitar exchange eights. Nice color is added by staccato guitar that is heavily indebted to Kurt Rosenwinkel. "Tiger and the Bear" is a straight ahead hard bop tune that could well have been written by Benny Golson. Swana takes a relaxed valve trombone solo, nicely comped by Hawk. Bild's trumpet solo has more than a touch of Lee Morgan and Clifford Brown. Hawk's single line piano solo in the right hand, comped with the left hand, could readily be compared with Tommy Flanagan. "L'aigle Noir" is a popular song by the French vocalist "Barbara" from her album Chanson de Barbara (Phillips, 1970). It is a ballad with the melody stated and extensively improvised by Bild with more than a smidgeon of Freddie Hubbard. The piece concludes with a short solo by Fritzinger.

"Sparkling" is relaxed ballad. The trumpet, then joined by sax and valve trombone, states the melody. The sparkle consists of a few added riffs. Swana then takes his first extended solo which includes a couple of cute quotes from the songs "Glocca Morra" and "Laura." In Fritzinger's guitar solo the soft echo effect appears again, and the melody is recapped by the horns. Hawk's piano introduces "Sudden Breeze," and then Tirfe's tenor sax states a laconic "lazy day" melody. Hawk then proceeds with a piano solo that brings McCoy Tyner or Kenny Barron to mind. Intensity builds, and leads up to a Cannonball Adderley kind of sax solo by Trirfe. The guitar provides a light-as-a-feather Jim Hall touch as the music moves somewhat to a cooler mode. Perry's drumming is all his own, utilizes the whole drum set with all its sonorities, and is very cleanly recorded as are all the instruments. "Les Passantes" (a popular French song by George Brassens) has a feeling of a cabaret song, and Swana's trombone is just right. The rhythm is in the bossa/samba category. Tirfe's lengthy sax solo is very inventive and echoes Gordon again, Hawk's piano solo has a bit of Bill Evans in it, and then a heavier Michel Legrand twist takes over.

The album concludes with what might be inspired by a fond memory. Delcourt claims "Galluis Beach" for his own with a bass opening that conveys the melody with a nostalgic French accent. Bild's trumpet takes on most of the solo chores, sounding uncommonly like Randy Brecker.

Overall, To My Brothers turns out to be a guided tour of some of hard bop's landmarks, veering over at times to other styles of the same era. The musicians perform with great spontaneity and feeling, and they form an ensemble that brings together their diverse approaches into an integrated whole. This album provides rich illustrations of how the history of jazz is to be heard in every note.

Track Listing: Poseidon: To My Brothers; Tiger & The Bear; L' Aigle Noir; Sparkling; Sudden Breeze; Les Passantes.

Personnel: Elliot Bild: trumpet; Henry Tirfe: saxophone; John Swana: valve trombone, valve trumpet; Zion Fritzinger: guitar; Nathaniel Hawk: piano; Alex Delcourt: bass; Steven Perry: drums.

Title: To My Brothers | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: 2019 Alex Delcourt records

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