Hush Point

Hush Point
Sunnyside SSC 1358

For the past decade or so it appears that trumpeter John McNeil has been creating memorable sessions propagating the best elements of so-called West Coast Jazz in a modern setting. Hush Point is no exception.

In his bands, New York-based McNeil sets out to recreate the laid-back feeling of the Cool school without falling into direct imitation as is the case from too many Hard Bop revivalists. That’s because the purported Cool music that crystallized between say, 1952 and 1962, mostly in California was more a feeling than a style. So the trumpeter, whose past experience includes stints with the Lewis-Jones big band and a Horace Silver combo as well as work with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan – probably the compositional progenitor of the Cool sound – chooses his tunes and ensemble wisely.

This time out McNeil’s front-line partner is alto saxophonist Jeremy Udden, taking the important role that tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry and baritone saxophonist Allan Chase had on McNeil last two CDs. Brooklyn-based Udden, who is also a long-time member of the Either/Orchestra is a wise choice. He composed four of the tunes here to McNeil’s three, and his style on alto, which lapses slightly behind the beat, has a timbre reminiscent of Mulligan’s rater than other altoists. Members of the rhythm section are drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, who is also in the 40Twenty band and bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky who has worked with the likes of trumpeter Jacob Wick and alto saxophonist Pete Robbins. Kobrinsky maintains the beat with a lazy-styled walk perfect for the compositions, which include one of his own, three by McNeil and, most tellingly, two by reedist Jimmy Giuffre. As for Sperrazza between his well-balanced pops and cymbal dusting, it’s as if he’s using his palms rather than sticks or brushes most of the time.

The choice of Giuffre’s “Iranic” and “The Train and the River” is illuminating, since the multi-reedist was one of the few Cool schoolers to evolve past his original style and eventually find common ground with the emerging New Thing. The tunes here were composed, before that, plus the versions here emphasize more pauses and thicker percussiveness than the originals. Then again Sperrazza varies his rhythm as succinctly as early Giuffre associate Shelley Manne often did, though the horn parts are equivalently contrapuntally characteristic.

Regrettably, Hush Point’s accomplishments are tinged with disappointment. There is a point where playing can become too relaxed and breezy, and it’s broached on this CD. McNeil’s wispy tone and Udden’s timbre burbling are exceptional when contrasted with the on-edge improvising of other players. And the way they encircle one another with near rococo harmonies is a pleasant change from the stretched multiphonics of different soloists elsewhere. But the subtlety and call-and-response patterns here take on sameness in too large doses. One Udden tune is said to be inspired by Bartók and a McNeil line is described as a minor blues. Yet both these compositions and others resemble one another more than they sound individual. Nadir is reached with the bassist’s “Cat Magnet” whose melodic simplicity moves it towards Country and away from Cool.

All and all Hush Point is an exemplary example of comfortable and casual Jazz that enjoyably doesn’t take anything too seriously. Nevertheless, some tougher tune and more rigorous playing could have moved it into the excellent range though.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Iranic 2. Peachful 3. B. Remembered 4. Bar Talk 5. Fathers and Sons6. Finely Done 7. New Bolero 8. The Train and the River 9. Get Out 10. Cat Magnet

Personnel: John McNeil (trumpet); Jeremy Udden (alto saxophone); Aryeh Kobrinsky (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums)