Monday, August 1, 2011

New York Standards Quartet

New York Standards Quartet (group)
Unstandard (Challenge Records; 2011)
David Berkman (piano)
Yosuke Inoue (bass)
Gene Jackson (drums)
Tim Armacost (sax, flute)

Formed from the idea of bringing a different spin to traditional standards, the New York Standards Quartet is quietly making an impact throughout various circles of the jazz community. 

The group consists of veteran leaders; David Berkman who's growing discography continues to be inspiring and garnering considerable praise for his compositions. He has recorded, toured and composed with the likes of Joe Lovano, Brian Blade and Dave Douglas. Yosuke Inoue, who has worked with Cyrus Chestnut and Lee Konitz among others. Tim Armacost, who's worked with both Bruce Barth & Kenny Barron on a number of occasions. And finally, Gene Jackson with whom you can hear some killer work on albums by Monday Michiru, J.D. Allen and even Dave Holland.

The group's first recording was a live set recorded in Japan in 2006 (NYSQ Live In Tokyo released in 2009). On their latest endeavor, Unstandard (Challenge Records) NYSQ have spun the tunes forward giving them a bit of adventure in the compositional structure. The classic "How High The Moon" starts in a traditional fashion and melody, but soon Berkman and Armacost take the tune on a nice but gentle left turn adding more romantic notes and some nice touches of improvising on Berkman's part. It's a great way for the group and the listener to be introduced.

Later on "But Beautiful", a Jimmy Van Heusen standard (later really solidified by Betty Carter late in her life), Berkman exemplifies the reason why he is one of the growing set of pianists that will be known over the next 20 years. His movements of slow and steady pace the quartet perfectly. Armacost switches to flute which adds a deep sensual atmosphere to the piece.

"Lunar," one of the few longer originals here written by Berkman, is a moment for the group to really bounce with a fervent staccato. They are having a lot of fun throughout this piece. Inoue really shines with a great set of passages on bass. Berkman's writing here has also allowed room for Gene Jackson to cut some serious and pulsating sounds on the drums. The group are really smokin' on "Lunar" and it happens at the right time while listening to the sessions as a whole.

Moving out of "Lunar" you get Bill Evan's wonderful "Interplay" which has a bit more full body to it as a result of relying on Armacost in place of Freddie Hubbard (trumpet on the original). They keep the feel and shape of original but expand inside the rhythm with Inoue and Jackson adding a solid tone on notes around the buoyancy and intricacies of Berkman's notes. The tune feels more like a jumping romantic theme to an early 60's film and leaves the listener with a pleasant vibe.

With Unstandard, The New York Standards Quartet have delivered a well focused document that expands on the main elements of the "standard" in a fun and entertaining manner all the while maintaining a sense kinship with the original. It's a wonderful group playing a straight ahead songbook that the general music fan can easily gravitate to with no fear. The melodies are familiar, the improvised moments are light and few. The listener gets an education by a senior class of players. The jazz community gets another stellar record to talk about for the rest of the year. Highly Recommended.

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