Tucker Antell knows how to make an entrance. The two-minute solo stand that opens Grime Scene finds his stentorian saxophone blowing brusque and fluid across a wide swath. It plays like a strong man's lament-cum-catharsis, but what follows on the same track is something else: a bluesy shuffle with foot tap-inducing properties. This marks the first of many welcome surprises on this pleasing debut.
While the pairing of tenor saxophone and organ trio coupled with an affinity for the blues is nothing new, Antell has plenty of unexpected ideas up his sleeve to make his music stand apart. With "Difference Maker," for example, he takes a seemingly well-trodden route, working a time-tested blues feel...but dropping a beat to make it 11/8. That tweak makes all the difference. And on Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You," the lone cover on the album and one of four numbers featuring guest trumpeter Jason Palmer, form adjustments and an injection of choppy NOLA swagger make for fun times. Antell doesn't exactly play the part of a radical there and elsewhere, but he also doesn't fall in line with conventions. He finds a way to survive and thrive between those poles, and that adoption and embrace of a middle ground helps him carve out a clear identity.
Despite early bows to the blues, Antell has much more to offer than a single stream of thought. And the chemistry between this leader and his compatriots - Palmer, guitarist Carl Eisman, organist Jake Sherman, and drummer Lee Fish - is palpable in the five numbers that follow. That's clear whether we're talking about "What You Mean To Me," a piece opening with a lengthy, free-standing balladic saxophone intro and moving into low-key groove beauty; the slow funk of "The Hive" and its searing neighbor, "Madness"; the gorgeous, still water meditations of "Rae"; or the charged swing of "Home Stretch." This may just be a first step on record for Antell, but he's clearly on the right track.