A tentet is a rather strange bird; too large to be labeled a small group, yet too small to be counted as a big band, it resides somewhere near the edges, mapping out its own musical profile. Some may rate that an asset, while others may deem it a mere hybrid, unworthy of their consideration. Wiser auditors, however, most often reserve judgment, preferring to take an impartial stance and allow the music to speak for itself. And that is where this appraisal of the New York-based Uptown Jazz Tentet's second album, What's Next, must begin.
The survey begins on a positive note with co-leader and trombonist Willie Applewhite's bright and sassy "Uptown Bass Hit," on which he solos sharply with tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon and bassist Clovis Nicolas. "What's Next," written by a second co-leader, trumpeter Brandon Lee, is no less tasteful and charming, and embodies luminous solos by Lee and pianist Adam Birnbaum. Nicolas' walking bass introduces Milt Jackson's shuffling "SJK," whose crisp solos are by Burton, Applewhite, alto Andrew Gutauskas and drummer Aaron Kimmel, although the album jacket incorrectly lists the names and sequence. Every member of the ensemble solos briefly on Lee's ballad, "Change," whose lovely melody is by itself enough to entrance listeners and assure their undivided awareness.
Carl Maraghi, the group's eloquent, full-throated baritone saxophonist, is showcased with Lee on the latter's bluesy "Bramblin'" (a salute to Ornette Coleman) and three tracks later has Wayne Shorter's lovely "Infant Eyes" to himself. Sandwiched between are Applewhite's spirited "Pursue" (solos by Gutauskas on soprano saxophone, and the composer) and the soulful "Mance's Dance," written by the group's second trumpeter, Tatum Greenblatt, as an homage to pianist Junior Mance and featuring his horn with pianist Birnbaum and Gutauskas again, on alto saxophone. Greenblatt and Lee engage in vigorous combat on Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," which is more breezy than sentimental in trombonist (and third co-leader) James Burton IIIs neat arrangement, wherein he uses mambo rhythms and a vamp to spice things up prior to a rather abrupt ending. The ensemble wraps the session with pianist Kenny Barron's well-knit jazz standard, "Voyage," first recorded by the legendary tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. Ardent solos by Birnbaum, Burton, Irabagon and Kimmel.
While it has been said more than once that size matters, the Uptown Jazz Tentet has cast size aside and into the nearest dumpster on a superlative album whose musical voice is as luminous, expansive and resonant as you are liable to hear from any group, regardless of size.
Uptown Bass Hit; What's Next; SKJ; Change; Bramblin'; Pursue; Mance's Dance; Infant Eyes; In a Sentimental Mood; Voyage.
Brandon Lee: flugelhorn, co-leader; Willie Applewhite: co-leader; James Burton III: bass trombone, co-leader; Tatum Greenblatt: flugelhorn; Andrew Gutauskas: alto sax, soprano sax, flute; Carl Maraghi: clarinet, bass clarinet.
Title: What's Next
| Year Released: 2020
| Record Label: Irabbagast Records
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