Human Spirit is a Seattle based jazz group which I have had the pleasure of performing with a handful of times in the past year or so. Their new CD entitled "Dialogue" was recorded during a weekend gig at Tula's (one of the great jazz clubs of Seattle). The core members of the group- drummer Matt Jorgensen, trumpeter Thomas Marriott, and alto saxophonist Mark Taylor- invited two special guests from New York: pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Essiet Essiet. The group is a slam dunk combination and it's a great live "blowing" date. It's all original tunes, however, the tunes are mostly simple and sketch-like, which leave a lot of comfortable room to interpret and improvise. The tunes feel like standards; in fact, some of them are based on standards. ("Ridgecrest" is based on Monk's "Green Chimneys" and "Pelham Gardens" is based on Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap.")
Matt Jorgensen plays with driving time and musical authority. He's a solid accompanist, but is never afraid to "hit the drums" as some say. I hear a lot of Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, and Bill Stewart in his playing. As a composer, I would compare him to Tony Williams, because Williams' tunes seem like they leave a lot of room for the drummer to make them into something, rather then having a complete melody and expect a submissive drumming approach. "In Unity", the first cut of the CD, could be a tune right out of the Tony Williams band of the 1980's (the band with Wallace Roney, Mulgrew Miller, Billy Pierce, and Ira Coleman).
Trumpeter Thomas Marriott has a bit more harmonically to say in his tunes, but his compositional aesthetic is not far from Jorgensen's; his tunes are very melodic, but not overly burdened with harmonic obstacle courses. This makes for some great soloing, and the tunes almost play themselves. My personal favorite from Marriott is "Reversal of Fortune", which starts with a dark, funky vamp, but them opens up into a feel good Keith Jarrettish Americana vibe. "148 Lexington" is a little Kenny Wheeler-ish, or maybe like Wayne Shorter's music from the second great Mile Davis quintet. It's a dark waltz; here Marriott takes a beautiful solo, showcasing his dark, full sound and great sense of melody and drama.
If alto saxophone sound had a spectrum where David Sanborn was on the right and Paul Desmond was on the left, Mark Taylor's sound would be smack dab in the center. Every once in a while, he plays with the bite of Kenny Garrett, which always wins points with me! He plays expertly throughout the CD, and his two compositions, "Stepford and Son, " and "After Hours" are probably the most harmonically complex on the date. (Overall, the mix of originals gives contrast yet consistency within the hour of music.) "Stepford and Son uses a lot of pedal point harmonies, which can be tricky in terms of soloing and comping. I must say that pianist Orrin Evans sounds undeterred by the complexity. He takes a wonderful Herbieish/Mulgrewish solo here, and his comping sounds very inspired.
Orrin Evans has been one of my favorite jazz pianists since the 90's. He has grown by leaps and bounds since then. On this date, his touch is muscular without sacrificing beauty. He comps maturely, and blends well with the group. Some of his solos are extremely forward thinking; his solo on "Song for Samuel" is so good it made me want to transcribe it! Evans has a lot of jazz foundation in his playing, but I like that I can hear him trying to stretch beyond the "known" in his solos.
On a date like this with so many strong soloists, it's hard to find space for the bass player to solo, even a great soloist like Essiet Essiet. His spot on "Ridgecrest" shows his skill at rhythm and also "thumb position" playing (think Eddie Gomez or Miroslav Vitous). Essiet is originally from Portland, and when he came out last year to play a few local gigs, many of my students were stunned at his technique and inventiveness. He is a master soloist, but on "Dialogue", he does a great job of holding it all together.
"Dialogue" sounds great for a live recording; the mix is great, and the piano is very present(which also wins points with me). I wouldn't call this straight ahead jazz. I would call it "Straight To The Point Jazz!" As in " Hey, let's cut the B.S. and play some JAZZ!" Pick up a copy today, I promise you'll love it!