Trumpeter Nathan Eklund's first two CDs as a leader, The View from Afar and The Crooked Line, both featured pianist Joe Elefante as the harmonic anchor. Eklund's newest, Trip to the Casbah, finds guitarist John Hart playing that role, giving the music a bit more of an economical, riff-oriented flavor. The all-original program also includes Donny McCaslin on tenor, Bill Moring on bass and Tim Horner on drums, powerhouses all. The front and inside cover art shows Eklund with flugelhorn in hand, running down the street in a determined fashionan image that could be seen to parallel his springy, athletic improvising style.
As much as he wants to showcase the quintet at full strength, Eklund is also wise to break it down to constituent parts. The snappy 7/8 opener "Toboggan Ride" leads to a saxless quartet burner, "Passing Trains." Eklund and Hart follow with an elegant duo waltz, "Hand Picked from Her Garden," before the full band returns with the mid-tempo straight-eighth tune "South Chelan." Eklund and Horner set up the title track, in an Afro-Cuban 12/8 vein, with a short trumpet-drums dueta device that McCaslin and Horner reprise during the main body of the tune. Later, Hart kicks on distortion for "Big Bro's Backstop," which evokes Elvin Jones' slow swing sans McCaslin again. Hart, in turn, sits out the closing "Fast Food," giving Eklund and McCaslin a chance to lock horns in a chordless setting.
Eklund's horn playing is a study in lyricism, control and personal expression, not least of all on the bossa-tinged "Long Lake" (with an alluring guitar trio intro) and the ballad "Happiness Is...." But Trip to the Casbah illustrates something else as well: his ability to enhance a small group sound by doing more with less.
Toboggan Ride; Passing Trains; Hand Picked from Her Garden; South Chelan; Trip to the Casbah, Part 1; Trip to the Casbah, Part 2; Long Lake; Happiness Is...; Big Bro
Nathan Eklund: trumpet, flugelhorn; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; John Hart: guitar; Bill Moring: bass; Tim Horner: drums.