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What's cool about Octobop, besides the band's clever name and conception, is the beautifully retro nature of its music.
An octet is the middle child, in between a small combo and a big band. Smaller groups have long been a favorite format of arrangers and Very Early is very much an arranger's collection. Accepting that this is an assembly of standards, the essence of the disc is in the choice of arrangers from within and outside the group. A comparison with Miles Davis' 1949 nonet is not inappropriate.
Very Early, titled after the Bill Evans tune of the same name, is Octobop's fourth recording following the well-received releases, After Dark, Night Lights, and Too Close for Comfort. All of these recordings have in common a respect for West Coast cool jazz in its entire splendor. West Coast genius Marty Paich's arrangements find their way onto all of the Octobop releases.
On Very Early, Paich's arrangements are manifest on the opening "Love Me or Leave Me" and "You're My Everything." They contain that seed of inspiration transformed into music that was the essence of Marty Paich's musicvery much in the same way that Beethoven's music has a certain Beethoven-ness.
Both pieces begin with Brian Brockhouse's walking (nay, swing-running) bass followed by swinging statements of the melodic themes before the solos begin. Behind the solos, Paich strikes a balance between introversion and extroversion, never overpowering the soloist.
The remaining arrangements are divvied up between baritone saxophonist Geoff Roach, guitarist Jeff Conway, and trombonist Randy Smith, who also supplied the only original composition, "Saudades."
Roach's arrangement of "Pink Panther" is sumptuous and fun, while Conway's "Very Early" possesses a dark nervousness, spurred on by tenor saxophonist Matt Kesner.
The uniform presence of Bill Hazard on vibes provides this collection with a soft edge, recalling George Shearing's groups in the 1950s and '60s.
Very Early is a very satisfying release, in keeping with Octobop's past offerings.
Track Listing: Love Me or Leave Me; Keester Parade; Pink Panther; A Ballad; Very Early; Powder Puff; Mosaic; Born To Be Blue; Saudades; Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?; Goodbye Porkpie Hat; You're My Everything.
Personnel: Brian Brockhouse: bass; Jack Conway: guitar; Bill Hazzard: vibes; Roy Kaufmann: drums; Matt Kesner: tenor, alto, soprano saxophones; Geoff Roach: baritone saxophone and alto flute; Jon Schermer: trombone; Randy Smith: trumpet and flugelhorn.