This marvelous quartet has just been named the 2003 Acoustic Jazz Group of the year in the Ear-shot Jazz Golden Ear Awards, and it's clear on this disc why they were accorded that popular vote. Jorgensen's 451 is as polished a band as any that we've heard in Seattle in quite some time. It exhibits that poised tension between discipline and abandonment that makes for great live gigs. The musicianship of its mem-bers is outstanding. And it convincingly operates at the intersections of standards and newer, progressive jazz. It seeks a dy-namism similar to, say, that of the Dave Holland Quintet, which is unbettered in its combination of drive, coiled tightness, superbly rehearsed ensemble play, and blistering, bursting soloing.
The quartet is led by the experienced and solid Matt Jorgensen, who does some-thing that is rare among jazz drummers: He manages not to bore listeners with endless repetition of the same-old same-old. His variation of pacing, color, and feel provide great shading to the group, rather than merely underpin its beat.
On Fender Rhodes, Ryan Burns re-minds listeners that the instrument was one of the most successful attempts at an electric, piano-like sound. And, while it can sound retro-hip now, it also can be hip, plain and simple ˝ and that's a far more worthy accomplishment. So, while he does provide the band with some of those electronic-wash and -warbling effects that made, say, Eddie Henderson's 1970s albums so cool, in the wake of all the good that Weather Report and Miles Davis had done for jazz electronification, he generally steers well clear of what are, at this remove, its many clich╚s.
Mark Taylor is a star on this recording. A really fine alto player with great chops and even more imagination, he rollicks all over Jorgensen's compositions, displays impressive command, thought, and feel.
Don't forget to pay heed to the bassist: Phil Sparks contributes some stellar work, here, as so often, from rock-solid groove to mysterious arco elaboration.
The quartet is augmented on 6 of the 11 tracks by one of three guest players, each one judiciously chosen by Jorgensen. Hans Teuber is on tenor sax on four tracks, Rob Davis on one, and David Marriott on trombone on another. All three are among the most accomplished of Seattle-based jazz musicians.
Most of the tracks were written by Jorgensen, with one by him and Taylor, One by Taylor alone, and one by Ryan Burns. There are three non-originals, a suitably spirited, swaying Mingus's "Fables of Faubus," "Che," by a collaborator from Jorgensen's New York days, saxophonist Matt Otto; and "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," the catchy Coldplay hit. Some-thing ˝ sometimes a lot ˝ is made of jazz musicians' making such selections, but covering good pop tunes is hardly new in the trade, so it's hard to see what the fuss is about, here in the 21st century. One might merely note that the Coldplay cut makes good jazz use of a catchy tune.
The bigger issue is that 451 really does have an impressive command of a style that its members have clearly nailed down through a responsive interaction to each other. And great jazz results.
The slower-paced cuts aren't quite as convincing as the mid- and up-tempo ones, frankly; Jorgensen's own drumming, so impressive elsewhere, seems a little intrusive and insistent, and the whole band drags along, a little. But that's a quibble, over all, because the album has, on several tracks, all the ingredients of one that can measure up on a national scale: some won-derful writing and superb playing.