It seems fitting that Art of the Groove came out in mid-May, about a week before the late Miles Davis's birthday. The set spends some time -- and spends it well -- saluting the late trumpeter, most notably on the opener, with "Straight From Miles." Flugelhornist Rob Walker wrote the tune with phrases from the '58 recording of Davis's take on Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." If this one doesn't have you thinking of Davis's '58 Milestones set, especially when Walker holds a horn note for an impossibly long stretch, you haven't delved deeply enough into the land of Miles. Then alto saxophoist Brent Jensen blows into a Cannonball Adderley mode -- Adderley was Miles' alto saxophonist in '58 -- and the rhythm section cranks into, in its own sweet way and with a good deal of modern bounce and vibrancy, a very '58-ish Miles groove.
1958 through 1962 were pinnacle years for Miles Davis, his greatest work -- Milestones, Kind of Blue, '58 Sessions, Someday My Prince Will Come, Seven Steps to Heaven -- and it's great to hear a top notch group revisit the sound on Walker's opener and "Dewey's Steps," and on the classics "It Could Happen to You" and "You Go To My Head"; and its great to hear them tip their hats to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, too, on "Art of the Groove," with a sound that harkens to the days when the late Lee Morgan had the trumpeter's chair there.
New Stories -- pianist Marc Seales, bassman Doug Miller, and drummer John Bishop, a Grammy-nominated crew -- shine here: elastic accompanists, a time suspension feeling with a bounce, sort of their own personalized take on what the Davis bands were doing in the late fifties, early sixties, with Seales creating small moments of delicate and breathtaking Bill Evans-like beauty at times that -- if your focus is on the horns -- you might miss, during that first listen or two. If that's the case, listen three or four times, at least.