Friday, October 14, 2011

New York Standards Quartet: Unstandard

Challenge Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Unstandard

Take four highly experienced musicians, all born within a six-year span, who have played with literally dozens of name artists; put ’em together, and you get the New York Standards Quartet. The group was formed in 2006 by Tim Armacost, who plays saxophones and alto flute; he’s joined by pianist David Berkman, drummer Gene Jackson and bassist Yosuke Inoue.

Each also works independently, playing with other units and teaching; they get together when schedules permit, to perform at various jazz venues and concerts in the United States, Europe and Japan. All four share a common love for Japanese culture, food and language, which explains their many visits to that country.

As the group’s name suggests, these gentlemen also have a particular love for jazz standards. Their first album (“Live in Tokyo”) consisted of only such tunes; no original compositions were included. This time, the mix includes a number of originals composed by members of the group. The rest are standards, but while these tunes may be familiar, the interpretations are unique.

“How High the Moon,” usually performed as up-tempo barn-burner, is turned into a plaintive, mid-tempo lament featuring a beautiful soprano sax showcase for Armacost. He and Berkman are the highlights in “All the Things You Are.” Armacost switches to tenor sax for Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” presented in a Latin jazz mode; the entire rhythm section is marvelous in backup. “But Beautiful” also features Armacost, this time on alto flute.

Without exception, everything swings nicely. Short passages — running less than a minute each, and identified as “Beamlets” — separate the various segments of the program. These evoke some of the old classical composers.

This is a really nice unit: the kind of group you could listen to for hours. The players are cohesive, relaxing and swinging, all at the same time. The resulting mood is similar to that created by the Modern Jazz Quartet, with the reed instrumentation replacing the vibraphone, along with the major emphasis on jazz standards.

I want to hear more from these guys!

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