October 14, 2013
Origin Records 82645
By Ken Waxman
Out of left field, drummer Scott Neumann has come up with as album of unexpected excellence. Neither an avant-garde breakthrough nor a mainstream run-though, the CD confirms jazz’s abiding strengths. Neumann’s one of the many unjustly almost-unknown improviser/composers who with little fanfare create first-rate CDs, easily as good as anything released by poll winners and media darlings.
A journeyman, Brooklyn-based Neumann has been a pro since he was 13, with a career gigging with big bands, combos and singers; in Broadway pit bands; plus university teaching positions. Neu3 is filled out by better-known stylists who are also leaders. Soprano and tenor saxophonist Michael Blake has known Neumann since 1987 when they met at the Banff Centre. Bassist Mark Helias and the drummer have been played together since 2009.
Helias’ power thumps set the pace for the disc as early as the first track. Exhilaratingly underscored by the leader’s cymbal snaps and well-modulated rolls, “Blessed” also showcases Blake’s skills. He adopts influences ranging from Getzian melodiousness to Tranesque intensity into a wholly original package. Besides sometimes playing both saxes simultaneously, the reedist also tootles a mean melodica as he demonstrated on “Garbanzo”. A pseudo-tango, the arrangement displays the bassist’s guitar-like facility with tremolo strums, while the drummer’s syncopation is terpsichorean without ever falling into clichéd rhythms.
Facility with the blues is another yardstick for high-quality jazz and NEU3 easily measures up. On “Blues for RQ”, a pleasant romp named for Neumann’s young son, Helias’ slap bass strategy exhibits his technical command even as he maintains the thick beat, while Blake’s solo is both lilting and intense. Elsewhere, the saxophonist‘s kazoo-like strains and honks add pressurized excitement to the jaunty, bluesy “Keep Your Heart Right”.
Appropriately, the bassist-composed “Brothers” confirms the trio’s fraternal sophistication. Distinguished by Blake’s ney-like buzzing, the tremolo piece is feisty without ever losing its cheerful lyricism.
Tracks: Blessed; Ama Dablam; Keep Your Heart Right; Clamba; Blues For RQ; Hymn For BoB; Ebb And Flow; Garbanzo; Brothers; The Syracusian
Personnel: Michael Blake: tenor and soprano saxophones, melodic; Mark Helias: bass; Scott Neumann: drums