By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Of One's Own
Jazz reviewers are exposed to musicians with all levels of talent. Many are good enough to make a decent living with their skills, and some have become name artists; the latter group makes this job worthwhile.
Once in awhile, though, I’m exposed to an individual or group so far above the norm, that the album in question doesn’t merely make my day; it makes my entire year. Such is the case with the Jeff Holmes Quartet.
Were I living in the New York City area, I’d probably know these guys by now, because they all work — and have spent most of their careers — in that locale. But as a West Coaster, they’ve been under my radar until recently.
Holmes is a multitalented musician. His primary instrument now is the piano, but he’s also an extremely talented trumpeter, composer, arranger and educator. He has played with, and created arrangements for, numerous name artists and musical groups. This album showcases his current small combo, and he’s also in the process of creating a big band.
Holmes is joined here by Adam Kolker, who plays tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet and flute, and also is an arranger. He has led numerous groups of his own, and has a larger discography than Holmes. James Cammack plays both acoustic and electric bass and, until now, has been best known for his work with the Ahmad Jamal Trio. Drummer Steve Johns, finally, has played with most of the famous groups that make the Big apple their home base.
This quartet is, without doubt, the best I’ve heard in years.
Holmes is responsible for all the arrangements, and he composed five of the nine tunes. The four standards are John Abercrombie’s “Labour Day,” Nat Simon’s “Poinciana,” Toby Holmes’ “Waltz #3” and Rogers and Hammerstein’s “So Long, Farewell,” from The Sound Of Music. I haven’t heard a fresh cover of “Poinciana” in years and, to my knowledge, this is the first time “So Long” has been done in a jazz mode. They’re the session’s two most impressive charts.
The basic melodic lines are complex, but so beautifully arranged that they’re relaxed and fluid in execution. All solo work is impressive and joyful, and, best of all, no matter how many times each track is played, you’ll hear something that you missed previously ... and you’ll rejoice again.
It’s all marvelous fun. Needless to add, this is the kind of music that reviewers hunger for!