Portland jazz luminary, trombonist and composer Stan Bock pairs three of the city's most well know veterans (Bock on trombone, Renato Caranto, tenor sax and Tim Gilson, fretless electric bass) with three of the region's best young musicians (John Natsos on alto, soprano sax and bass clarinet, Clay Giberson on piano, and Chris Brown drums) for a sextet session comprised of re-worked standards, funky soul tunes and modern originals.
While many of the tunes on this album have been recorded time and again by hundreds of artists, the thing that really makes these versions stand out against others are inventive new arrangements. Take, for instance, "Mercy Mercy, Mercy," perhaps one of the most over-played tunes of the last 40 years. Here, Bock's arrangement completely reinvigorates and renews it's viability. From his ultra-hip reharmonization and clever orchestration to the constant shifting in meters and feels throughout, Bock has managed to make something old, new again. This pattern continues throughout Feelin' It.
Leonard Berstein's Maria is especially unique. An ostinato bassline doubled with bass clarinet provides the cushion for a reworking of the melody over a quasi-reggae drum feel. After the melody, the band embarks on a totally-free improvisation with Caranto taking the lead for several minutes of inspired group interplay. Even the hokey old Kermit The Frog number, "It Ain't Easy Being Green" gets a new treatment in the form of a latin-infused modal update.
Bock's signature trombone style, a mix of traditional, hardbop and fusion playing is spotlighted throughout. Bock has a dark, beautifully developed sound, which allows him to blend seamlessly with other horns. His obvious love of different genres shines through here, as he breezes through all of them with ease, clarity and style. Saxophonist Caranto, too, shares the spotlight more than the other musicians, changing his sound and style to give each composition what it's asking for.
While not as prominently featured as Caranto, John Nastos does get his moments to shine, especially as a composer -- he contributes three tracks: the New Orleans-style romp, "Up in the Air," the Keith Jarrett-influenced "Horizon," and the beautifully arranged, winds-only tribute to Jim Pepper. Nastos' saxophone sounds mature and uncontrived, most notably on the soprano. His sound is big and warm over the entire range of the instrument. His intonation is impeccable, which is especially impressive given the often uncooperative nature of the instrument. Nastos also contributes to the ensemble sound and group improvisations in a altruistic manner. You never get the feeling that he is trying to take the limelight. He's content to make the music sound as good as possible.
The rhythm section of Giberson, Gilson, and Brown swing, groove, and propel the band through the music. Brown has always had a Jeff "Tain" Watts influence, and it shines through on the swing numbers. But he's also developed his own personal feel and sound, which is really coming to the fore, especially on the more open-ended pieces like "Maria," "Let's Fall in Love" and "Bein' Green." He also throws down a mean Art Blakey style shuffle, heard on "Blues in the Shed." He also has a nice, relaxed feel on the latin-tinged numbers, such as the grooving samba "D Tune." Brown also shows off his second- line chops on "Up In The Air."
Gilson has always been know for both his ability to "lay it down" as well as virtuosic solo chops on both acoustic and electric basses. Here, he mostly plays a supportive role, although he does get a chance to burn through a Jaco Pastorious- like solo on "Up in the Air." His playing is strong and unrelenting throughout. Pianist Giberson moves effortlessly and tastefully between bebop, post-bop, free-jazz and fusion styles. He contributes an especially Jarret-esque solo on "Up in The Air."
Bock has indeed succeeded in creating a "New Tradition" with this new group and album. Let's hope he continues to bring new wine to old bottles while forging a path for himself in the Northwest and beyond.