Scott Reeves got his start as a trombonist, has played a lot of big band gigs over the years and became a fearsomely good composer of jazz for large ensembles. He's put out two big band albums and both are excellent. He also has a thing for unorthodox instruments: these days, his two main axes are the alto flugelhorn and the even rarer alto valve trombone. Like so many artists during the lockdown, he found himself going through his archives and discovered that he had an intriguingly shadowy quintet set, recorded at City College in Harlem in 2005, which needed only some audio tweaks to be releasable. Sixteen years later, he's titled the record The Alchemist.
Reeves trills eerily over the spare blips from Mike Holober's electric piano and Russ Spiegel's guitar as the opening number, New Bamboo gets underway, slinking along over the altered clave of drummer Andy Watson and bassist Howard Britz. Here and there during the show, the bandleader uses a pitch pedal for harmonies, tersely beefing up the sound without making it sound techy. The band take their time and choose their spots, notably with Holober's spacy, enigmatic solo over Watson's pugilistic clusters.
The early version of Shapeshifter here (a real cumulo-nimbus arrangement would appear later on Reeves' Without a Trace big band album) is more broodingly terse as he leaves the pitch pedal out, moody and occasionally sputtering over a syncopated, grey-sky backdrop based on a Ginastera piano sonata. Watson delivers a darkly carnivalesque solo over a simple Holober piano riff; the pianist scrambles over a breathless swing with a blippy disquiet in the background.
Likewise, this version of Without a Trace pairs pensively starry piano and guitar against Reeves' brooding trombone, afloat on a pillowy quasi-bolero groove, Spiegel reaching for sparkle amid the gloom and Britz's almost achingly spring-loaded pulse.
The album's title track - a Miles Davis homage - is just as pensive, Watson's loose-limbed, funky swing anchoring Reeves' rise from morose resonance to shivery energy, backlit by Holober's unsettled twinkle and Spiegel's bobbing and weaving lines.
Remembrances, a fond jazz waltz, also has a distant somberness with Reeves' spacious resonance echoed by guitar and piano in turn. They close the night with an upbeat, modally funky take of All or Nothing at All with a tantalizingly brief Watson solo. Not-so-subtle hint to other musicians: if you have something this good from some random show years ago kicking around on your hard drive, let's hear it!