The Philadelphia Heritage Art Ensemble Crossing the Bridge

Philly001

F. ADAMS: Bossa for Desta. The Interlude. Dance of Six Sense. The Trumpet Song.* MORGAN: Soft Touch. MOBLEY: Three Way Split. Work Out / Fred Adams, tpt; Clifford Adams, tb; James Steward, t-sax; Luke O’Reilly, *Alfie Pollitt, pno; Lee Smith, bs; Craig McIver, dm / Heritage Sound (no number)

The Philadelphia Heritage Art Ensemble is a group dedicated to keeping the hard bop style of the late 1950s and early ‘60s alive. This means the kind of music you heard mostly (but not exclusively) on the old Blue Note label back when Alfred Lion was still running it: the style of Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan etc. To this end, the band’s pianist, tenor saxist and trumpeter-leader all emulate their idols’ styles in their own solo work.

But the band doesn’t just play the old tunes. Trumpeter-leader Fred Adams, as can be seen in the header above, writes a lot of the band’s material in the old style. As can be heard in the opening track, which Adams wrote for his daughter Desta, they also play a bit of bossa nova, albeit in a hard bop style. In this piece, at least, pianist Luke O’Reilly plays a looser, less note-filled solo than one typically heard from Horace Silver, to good effect, but leader-composer Adams is even here strongly reminiscent of his idol Morgan, particularly in his first chorus.

The point, however, is not merely that they resemble their models but that they play highly original solos in a similar mold, which is not the same thing. Thus they are less a tribute band than what they claim in their name, a heritage of the older jazz, And I have to tell you, after slogging through way too many modern-day jazz CDs in which one hears either “ambient” or “lounge” jazz or, worse yet, a rock beat and whiny, flaccid-sounding rock guitars, their brand of jazz is absolutely refreshing. There’s nothing precious about it. Even in a ballad like Lee Morgan’s 6/8 time Soft Touch, what you get is a pure jazz sensibility sans touchy-feely delicacy.  As soon as they move from the ensemble opening theme to Fred Adams’ trumpet solo, the energy level increases and we get a well-conceived and very interesting improvisation that, thankfully, is built as much around the melody line as around the chords. Clifford Adams’ trombone is fluid and fluent with a warm, burry tone, sort of like a cross between J.J. Johnson and Jimmy Knepper (Charles Mingus’ favorite trombonist). Interestingly, in this piece O’Reilly’s piano almost sounds a bit like Bill Evans in one of his more unbuttoned solos. Lee Smith also has a very nice and cleanly played bass solo in this one.

The band also give a slight Latin feel to the opening melody of Hank Mobley’s Three Way Split, although this disappears as soon as James Steward comes flying in on tenor with Smith driving him with his swinging bass. Clifford Adams again reminds one of Knepper and Johnson in his solo (and why not?) and Fred Adams dances lightly on the trumpet. Craig McIver also has a tasteful drum solo, which leads into the final ensemble chorus which diminuendos (but does not use an artificially-created fade-out) to the end.

The Interlude is another ballad, the theme of which is simple but the chords of which are interesting and rather complex, and Dance of Six Sense is yet another ballad. For me, this was a little too much ballad overkill and not very good programming despite the fine solo performances in each, although O’Reilly’s solo in the latter was exemplary and the leader’s trumpet traced a fine filigree around the tune.

We return to the group’s hard-bop roots in Mobley’s very uptempo Work Out, not much of a tune but a real swinger, with the band locked in and driving hard from the first beat to the end. Steward flies on his tenor and Fred Adams plays a surprisingly spaced-out solo, selecting his notes carefully and tastefully. This one also showcases McIver’s drumming, not particularly flashy but with good taste in his solo and plenty of drive behind the rest of the group.

We close out with Adams’ The Trumpet Song, which is (surprise!) another ballad, although this time with a very fine melody line in which the underlying chord sequence includes a rising chromatic to add interest. The solos are good, but not exceptional.

Overall, however, this is clearly an album worth checking out. The band plays with good taste and provides some exceptionally good solo work throughout.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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