Friday, June 16, 2017

NYSQ Sleight of Hand

Sleight of Hand
Whirlwind Recordings

This is the fifth album for the New York Standards Quartet who have been together for twelve years. the present recording finds them composed of saxophonist Tim Armacost, pianist David Berkman, drummer Gene Jackson and double bassist Daiki Yasukagawa. As Berkman observes, "We were at the period where we'd all done a lot of original recordings of our own music, as composers and leaders; and then, through a series of circumstances, we came together as a quartet with the particular mission of taking on standards, but arranging them to create a feeling that was similar to the original albums we recorded."

About this specific recording he explains that, "the album title refers to the four of us, conjuring transformations of standards and enjoying the magic of creating something new out of that repertoire; really exploring the group's alchemy and chemistry, achieved through twelve years of touring and recording together." Certainly it gets off on a strong note with the vibrant, driving swings rendition of Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes," that displays Armacost's strong, imaginative tenor along with Berkman's superb piano with a brief solo from Yasukagawa, while Jackson pushes this lively performance along. There is some playful solo piano to open the bright performance of Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now," with more authoritative tenor sax from Armacost who then displays his warmth as a ballad player on the Ellington classic "In a Sentimental Mood." Jackson's cymbal embellishments adding to the appeal of this latter track.

Other delights include Berkman's title track,  an original based on Gershwin's "But Not For Me," with his lively, flowing solo Another lovely ballad performance is of Jules Styne's "I Fall In Love Too Easily," with Armacost's serpentine soprano sax standing out, while the four ably negotiate the metrical changes and brisk rhythms of Hank Mobley's "This I Think of You," with Yasukagawa standing out as he opens this and then Armacost plays brilliantly on tenor. A Herb Ellis ballad, "Detour Ahead," again is a vehicle for Armacost's tenor and Berkman.

The closing "Lover Man," is taken at a considerably swifter pulse than the more familiar renditions of Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker. Again Berkman excels as does Armacost who is heard on soprano. The strong ensemble playing, in addition to the many fine solos, and the imaginative reworking of the material make for a superb straight-ahead recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the NYSQ in performance.

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