Saxophonist Christopher Merz's Very Happy Band is essentially a foursome of like-minded fun-lovers with trombonist Anthony Williams added on two numbers and trumpeter Dave Rezek on one. For the most part, this is happy jazz, eleven original compositions by Merz that underscore the music's sunnier side without sacrificing proficiency or substance.
To escape the quartet format's inbred redundancy, Merz interweaves and sustains contrast by moving from tenor saxophone to alto or soprano, and by sharing the front line with Williams on "Unlimited Redemption," and with Williams and Rezek on "gofundyourself." Meanwhile, pianist Michael Conrad doubles on electric keyboard on "Barfin' Up Rainbows" and "Chrisp. Otter" (no idea what that means; there are no liner notes) and even surfaces briefly on Hammond B3 organ on "Redemption" (either overdubbed or he can play piano with one hand, organ with the other).
Merz's charts are respectable, albeit less than electrifying, as are most of the solos. Merz, who acquits himself well on all three horns and plays tenor on six, is especially engaging on soprano ("Barfin' Up Rainbows," "Peace After," "The Truth Will Set You Free," "Superman"). He unlimbers his alto only on the bright and buoyant "Near as Like." Speaking of "Superman (wears Mike Conrad pyjamas)," its subtitle refers in some way to pianist Conrad (presumably, another inside joke). Bassist Drew Morton has ample blowing space on that number, as he does on "While We Wait," "Redemption," "Lullaby" and "Chrisp. Otter," while drummer Dave Tiede keeps dependable time throughout. Rezek's lone solo, on the bop-flavored "gofundyourself," is earnest but less than enticing. As for Conrad, he is ready and able whenever his name is called. Tempos flow for the most part through Merz's apparent comfort zone, which is somewhere midstream between slow and up.
As noted, Merz's compositions are admirable, as is the ensemble. Nothing extraordinary, simply well-played straight-ahead jazz with a happy feeling. If happy is what you've been looking for, Merz's Very Happy Band could very well end the search.
Barfin’ Up Rainbows, Poopin’ Out Sunshine; While We Wait; Near as Like; Peace After;
Unlimited Redemption; Superman (wears Mike Conrad pyjamas); Lullaby; The Truth Will
Set You Free (but not until it’s finished with you); gofundyourself; Chrisp. Otter; Be Good