Friday, April 24, 2009

The Nu Band - Lower East Side Blues (Porter Records, 2009)

Formed as a collaborative venture in 2003, The Nu Band consisting of Mark Whitecage on alto saxophone and clarinet, Lou Grassi on drums, Roy Campbell on trumpet and flugelhorn and Joe Fonda on bass explores in a very interesting way the intersection of mainstream and free jazz. It is clear that the musicians have a great respect for the jazz tradition and use that as a springboard for their compositions and improvisations on this album. "Lower East Side Blues" opens the album with a strong and deep performance, with the soloing and ensemble playing marking a fertile and earthy feel. "In a Whitecage/The Path" is a medley featuring a swirling solo by the saxophonist and then a mellow and midtempo collective improvisation. "Connecticut Solution" starts medium-up tempo with a nice drum feel. Campbell's trumpet has an interesting pinched sound on his solo which is well supported by good solid thick sounding bass. Whitcage takes over with a strong but well controlled solo, and there is a nice bass and drums interlude. "The Last of the Beboppers" was the highlight of the album for me, opening with a sweet sounding full band free-bop melody before tart alto saxophone with echoes of Eric Dolphy and Jackie McLean take over. Trumpet supported by deep elastic bass makes tart commentary on the proceedings and a slick drum solo seals a great performance. "Heavenly Ascending" introduces bowed bass and a serious and deep melody. Profound and emotional saxophone and trumpet solos are presented before the return to melody and the shift to free improvisation for the conclusion. "Avanti Galoppi" has a folk-ish theme like the type Albert Ayler used to use before opening to strong collective improvisation. Elastic bass and drums buoy a somber and emotional feel. John Coltrane's "Like Sonny" finishes up the album with a swinging full band performance featuring a nice drum solo. This was a well played and thoroughly enjoyable album of progressive jazz that is quite accessible. The music is both thoughtful and exciting and the musicians involved have a deep sense of the jazz tradition without being beholden to it.
Lower East Side Blues -

Edit: "Like Sonny" is a Mark Whitecage original, not the John Coltrane composition.

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