Chad McCullough, with one CD under his own name - the outstanding Dark Wood, Dark Water (Origin Records, 2009) - has also contributed his distinctive voice to recordings by the Kora Band and Tunnel Six, all under the Origin Records banners. But the Seattle-based trumpeter must have a European sensibility; his finest work to date has been in teaming, as co-leader, with artists from the other side of the Atlantic - Slovakian pianist Michal Vanoucek, on The Sky Cries (Origin Records, 2010), and Antwerp-based pianist Bram Weijters, on Imaginary Sketches (Origin Records, 2011), and now, again with Weijters, on what could be a breakout effort for both players, Urban Nightingale.
Recordings that are tagged "breakouts" aren't necessarily way better than the efforts that preceded them. It's more a matter of the output reaching a critical mass of sustained excellence that pushes the music to a level where it gains greater notice. A re-visitation of McCullough's previous CDs as leader or co-leader reveals a well-developed artist who is smart enough to pick great sidemen starting out with his Dark Wood, Dark Water debut. He is a rare instrumentalist who makes each note sound as if it were imbued with a deeper meaning. Certainly a player with great chops, his approach - especially on his two teamings with Weijters - is one that is a measured and deliberate, often introspective, sometimes gorgeously melancholic, and one that employs a continuity of mood and atmosphere that the best recordings have.
That said, Weijters is, perhaps, more responsible for the concepts of their two CDs together. His is the dominant songwriting voice, having penned five tunes to McCullough's two on Imaginary Sketches and seven tunes to McCullough's two on Urban Nightingale. His piano playing has a distinctively searching quality, and he has added to his arsenal (or at least brought it into play since Imaginary Sketches) the Fender Rhodes, which he uses to give some of the tunes a gritty, urban atmosphere.
Inside the sound is the perfect, understated bass pulse of Piet Verbist and subtle percussive intricacies of drummer John Bishop the super sideman in the drum chair for Origin Records, also the label's honcho, and one of the finest CD cover art designers in jazz, rounding out the quartet on an outstanding set of sounds.