The "west" here is represented by San Francisco-based pianist and group leader Adam Shulman
, the "east" by the other half-dozen members of Shulman's impressive septet. Even though the reasons that led to the alliance are ambiguous, what matters is the payoff, and that is more than admirable from any vantage point.
As if to mirror the ensemble's six-and-one makeup, Shulman wrote six of the album's seven engaging numbers; the seventh (the rapid-fire "Whose Blues") was composed by West Coast legend Lennie Niehaus
. The session opens on a bright note with the jaunty "Nickel and Dimed" (a.k.a. "Pennies from Heaven"), whose radiant solos are by Shulman and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli
. The light-hearted "Manne-Splainin,'" whose catchy melody brings to mind George Shearing
's "Lullaby of Birdland" and Jimmy Giuffre
's "Four Brothers," introduces the other front-liners, alto Ian Hendrickson-Smith
, tenor Stephen Riley
and trombonist Steve Davis
. Riley, whose breathy phrasing is a throwback to a time when saxophonists could be singled out by their unique sound and personality, sparkles on the groovy "Lean and Mean," as do his fellow horns and bassist David Wong
. "Mingus Dreams of Billy Strayhorn
," the first of the album's two ballads (the other is the graceful "Heart of Winter"), features Shulman's sensitive piano in a salute to Charles Mingus
' "Duke Ellington
's Sound of Love." Wong also solos before the ensemble re-states the charming melody. "Whose Blues," a no-holds-barred flag-waver that calls to mind the peerless Jazz Messengers, embodies muscular solos by the front line and tenacious backing from Shulman, Wong and drummer Rodney Green
who trades eights with the ensemble and launches a forceful solo of his own before the coda. The amiable waltz "Jack's Basket" precedes "Heart of Winter" and the closing "Central Avenue Rundown," another paradigm of irrepressible West Coast harmony and rhythm with buoyant solos by everyone and Davis echoing warmly, as he does throughout, the late great J.J. Johnson
A number of recent small-group albums have gazed in the rear-view mirror and aimed to re-create the ardor and energy animating those legendary ensembles that canonized the remarkable Prestige-Blue Note era of the 1950s-'60s. West Meets East
is clearly one of the best.
Nickel and Dimed; Manne-Splainin’; Lean and Mean; Mingus Dreams of Billy Strayhorn;
Whose Blues; Jack’s Basket; Heart of Winter; Central Avenue Rundown.