THE ALCHEMIST / REEVES: New Bamboo. Shapeshifter. Without a Trace. The Alchemist. Remembrances. ALTMAN-LAWRENCE: All or Nothing at All / Scott Reeves Quintet: Reeves, alto v-tb/alto Fl-hn/electronics; Russ Spiegel, gtr; Mike Holober, pno/el-pno; Howard Britz, bs; Andy Watson, dm / Origin Records, no number (Live: New York, May 2005)
This recording comes from a live tape made at the City College of New York’s Harlem campus in May 2005, but due to sound issues caused by a “lack of baffling” it was rejected. During last year’s pandemic, however, Reeves re-listened to it and was amazed at how well and “together” the quintet sounded, thus he decided to release it.
And it really is a fine album, due in large part to Reeves’ interesting and often complex charts. It’s not just that the compositions are well written; they’re complex, melodically, harmonically and rhythmically, and the quintet really does play them amazingly well. I found it interesting that Reeves, who also plays trombone with the Dave Liebman Big Band and the Vanguard Orchestra, uses an alto valve trombone. This is truly an unusual instrument, even nowadays when unusual instruments (like the bass clarinet) are part and parcel of jazz groups, and he also plays an alto flugelhorn.
But the nice thing about this quintet is that they’re equally balanced in talent. I would put keyboard player Mike Holober near the top of present-day New York jazz pianists, yes, even above Fred Hersch who basically just plays Bill Evans, yet what strikes the ear consistently in these marvelous performances is just how well everyone and everything falls together. In addition to all of the solos being excellent, there’s nary a misstep by the band as the go through these charts. Everything falls into place, even such a small thing as the way bassist Howard Britz plays behind Reeves’ solo on Shapeshifter, to make these performances virtually perfect without sounding as if the group was pressing too hard to sound perfect. As Reeves put it in the liner notes, “The night had a palpable chemistry and magic.” Yes, indeed it did. Even drummer Andy Watson contributed good solos here and here in addition to holding the complex rhythms together. Just listen to the way the quintet builds up the coda of Shapeshifter for a perfect example of what I mean.
I didn’t care much for was The Alchemist: too much rock garbage in it for it to impress me as a jazz piece. I just skipped this one after the first two minutes. Remembrances, though a nice ballad, is probably the most conventional of Reeves’ original tunes presented here, though it is played exceptionally well.
The program ends, interestingly enough, with an old standard from 1939, All or Nothing At All (one of Frank Sinatra’s first recordings). This too is given a rock treatment (except for the middle eight, which is played in a fast swing beat), which of course I hated, even though the ensemble and soloists again played well
So a bit of a mixed review. If you like this rock fusion stuff better than I do, you’ll like the entire album. They certainly did play superbly that night.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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