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The Uptown Quintet

Live in New York

(Callar Live; US: 21 Feb 2006; UK: Available as import)

Another classy example of young jazz musicians who don’t suppose they’ve a duty to always play the latest things. Better, surely, to be human beings who act on a love of music, and the ultimate values represented by not ceasing to do good things, rather than merely distilling the latest residues.


These guys seem to have worked together before they left New York, in other jobs Ira Gitler refers to in exemplary and even fascinating—if uncomfortably printed—liner notes. At least three of the musicians have two or more CDs under their own name, and if they attended conservatories—and even studied jazz history with Professor Gitler—they know why this music ought to be played. This has a lot to do with the music itself giving reasons why it should be heard.


There does seem to be some very good jazz in New York, proceeding respectfully from earlier music and paying no heed to the whims of journalists and other cliché-peddlers—those who always demand something new and esteem young talented technicians while ignoring the frequent failure of such callow sprites to do all that much. While similar to several hyped undeserving juniors, the Uptown Quintet’s members say what they have to say, which fortunately isn’t nix, zilch, nothing, or minimal. The proprietor of one non-giant label keeps repeating that the recorded and marketed stuff and the good stuff are not and too often have never been exactly the same thing. Just because he said it first is no reason why I shouldn’t come out with the same comment. I would also add that this CD owes its existence to the proprietor of a Canadian jazz venue—to whom the listeners are indebted—who started a label to issue Canadian recordings. His name is Cory Weeds and long may he flourish. When the alto saxophonist on this set was working with Weeds in a different capacity, said label boss heard the tape of a gig by the presently dispersed quintet and issued it. (The third item in his one-line CD is, as it happens, “jazz-fan”.) 


On his own “O’Cleary’s Shuffle”, Ian Hendrickson-Smith gets applause from the audience for an inspired and earthy alto solo, and Ryan Kisor really shines on his pretty-toned trumpet turn. Spike Wilner likes to phrase across the rhythm when soloing on piano, and after he has impressed it’s Barak Mori’s turn. There’s a lovely lightness and fluency to “In the Kitchen”, with Kisor’s hot trumpet, and Charles Ruggiero is seriously exciting in a drum solo which is anything but tokenism.


The themes and lines are certainly out of the bop to hard-bop bag, but these guys know the sort of music they want to make with these materials. The piano mini-concerto of “A Foolish Lament” challenges the listener to relax, which Kisor does with his beautiful sound on a solo which can seem like a loving benediction to the music’s heroes. The altoist gets intelligently serious on this slow medium performance.


The little-known pianist Ronell Bright’s tune “Sweet Pumpkin” tries to be a nicer tune than “If I Were a Bell”, and the rhythm allows the altoist to relax and do some lovely melodic business, which is duly emulated by Kisor and Wilner, who composed three of the tunes featured. Sonny Clark’s output was drawn on for “Blue Minor”, and Clark’s own playing presumably appeals to the pianist here.


The two-horn ensemble work on “Calypso Cove” reminds me of the way the great Red Rodney used to play in perfect tune with a front line partner: sometimes what he played seemed to come out of an altoist’s horn, and the saxophone from the bell of Rodney’s trumpet. I almost regret being in a good mood, the mildly Caribbean number is so soothing. The extended piano solo is full of examples of something I notice among current young boppers, a sense that the soloist has just thought of a quote from another tune, and at once turned it into a fresh idea. The music sounds familiar, but not in a heard-it-before sense. Very affectionate music, but fresh and spirited.


Wilner’s “Joyful Abandon” is the closer, and might represent a grandchild of Oscar Brown Jr., the now grown-up son of the little boy who kept asking about “Dat Dere”. The music has many of the same satisfactions encountered a few years ago, when the Heath Brothers quartet toured playing very, very mellow 21st century bop.

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