Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The AHA! Quintet: Freespace

Jazz Compass
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Freespace

When one thinks about jazz locales, New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Seattle generally come to mind; they’re the key areas where the art form has developed, and each has produced a distinct style. That said, jazz musicians have come from every part of the country (and, lately, every part of the world). 

The core members of the AHA! Quintet — pianist Steve Allee, bassist Jeremy Allen and drummer Steve Houghton — have the state of Indiana in common: Allee is an Indianapolis native, while Allen and Houghton are faculty members at Indiana University. For this album, that trio added a couple of stellar artists: Clay Jenkins, on trumpet; and Bob Sheppard, who plays most of the reed instruments. All these gentlemen have performed and recorded with various jazz greats: Freddie Hubbard, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Chick Corea, Count Basie and many others.

Allee composed and arranged all but one of this album’s tunes; the exception is the beautiful old standard, “Never Never Land,” delivered by his trio. The larger quintet’s musical style is tightly arranged jazz, more like that of the so-called West Coast sound, than the “looser” East Coast genre. The ensemble work for the melodic lines is relatively complex — obviously written, as opposed to “head” arrangements — and everything is rehearsed to perfection. Each musician gets plenty of solo space, and the performances are exceptional. It all meshes and swings wonderfully.

This is a great group, and it delivers imaginative stuff.

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