Well above a standard minimum of accomplishment, this group has in Joel Frahm one player whose name I recognise, and in Toru Dodo a pianist who, having sat down, simply does a good job and takes the trouble not to trot out stock stuff. His “Brush Pitch” is a peculiar 22-bar composition on which his solo seems continually on the verge of coming to a stop. It sounds as if he wrote something with more of a standard chorus structure, took out some two- or four-bar passages and joined up the remaining 22. I keep wondering how the hornmen know where they are, since they very obviously do, and Michael Rodriguez conjures an impressive melodic line.
There is a mighty impressive melodic line to Zimmer’s “Waltz for Opp. 7:ll”, which sounds like the extension of a brisk riff theme spun out into a ballad. Its flow is such that the rhythm section playing in 3/ 4 time is only a soft pulse. Nobody puts a toe wrong, and each solo is a delight, not least David Wong’s on bass. These guys can hear everything, so that whatever the time signature or bar structure, nobody falls into obviousness. On the opening solo of the nearly ten minutes closer, an upbeat variant blues called “A Whole New You”, Joel Frahm executes some post-Coltrane manouevres in the course of a solo in which the ever-to-be-celebrated range of virtues of the late Zoot Sims persist. Rodriguez is his equally swinging self, and closes his solo with drama but no grandstanding. Dodo plays around harmonically, implying the second four-bar set of changes when playing the first four bars. If the title doesn’t, he gives away the secret of the joke in this exceptionally happy performance by quoting “I Remember You” at the end of his solo. Frahm has condensed it into twelve bars.
The complexities of Zimmer’s “Getting Dizzy” afford other occasions for the display of older virtues, the ensemble business at the start plainly intended to intrigue, and first we get Rodriguez’s solo going into some phrases that recall the hardest of hard bop. He does not, however, blast; he does nothing ugly and never produces iron. Frahm of the handsome tone does the very opposite of double-time on his solo, playing long phrases with just bass and drums in accompaniment. People who need to say that they know the changes tend to put in notes in demonstration of the fact. Frahm knows this number so well from the inside that he can navigate it solely by way of some very attractive melodic creation.
There are numerous displays of grateful affection for old licks and not-quite-mannerisms. Everybody knows what parody is, and quotation, but a musician with something of his own feel can produce affectionate echoes. The opener, “Woodside Blues”, has an obvious echo in its title, but even Frahm has problems matching Dodo’s way with such things on the opener. Jaki Byard had a rare talent for that, and more, and Byard’s joyous range is matched in at least some respects by the pianist here. There’s more than thirteen minutes to the opening blues, complete with bass solo, and a trading of fours between the drummer and the hornmen and pianist in return, all immensely resourceful. Playing anything like the final bars of the whole set would tempt many impressive hornmen to engage in a bit of blasting. Here, instead, there’s a deeper engagement, and the energy goes into a fuller expression of why it’s worth surviving. Deep joy; as the English comedian “Professor Stanley Unwin” used to say: joyful joyful joyful.