Flugelhorn maestro Dmitri Matheny issues his first long player since 2016's Jazz Noir and continues to lead small combos making cozy, tasteful straight-ahead jazz. Cascadia brings Matheny back to mostly fresh originals with a few standards sprinkled in, leading a five-piece band that throughout comprises of Charles McNeal (tenor and soprano saxophones), Bill Anschell (piano, Phil Sparks (bass) and Mark Ivester (drums), the lone new member not held over from the prior album.
This group proves to be the right extension of Matheny himself: stylishly restrained and discreet, a well-executed update on post-bop that swings in that relaxing way as jazz is intended.
"Cascadia" The lead-off title tune is a smooth and graceful start, and it's immediately apparent that Matheny understands how a flugelhorn differs from a trumpet, exploiting its uniquely warm qualities to the hilt. McNeal treats his soprano sax in much same way.
The easy going vibe continues with "On a Misty Night," and when Matheny and McNeal unite for the thematic line, they sound almost like a single instrument. McNeal's tenor has that old Coleman Hawkins fervor during his solo turn.
"Evergreen Girl" swings with aplomb, because the accompaniment is spot-on, while the enticing twilight ballad "Dark Eyes" becomes the springboard for Matheny's deep lyricism.
"Perfect Peaches" shows the band feels just as ease with a breezy Brazilian sway as they are with a bass walk, and McNeal's tenor sax is so buttery. Sparks and Ivester get their own highlights this time and even then they keep things nice and cool.
"The Lonesome Road" is a lazily flowing blues-flavored number with tastefully relaxed piano from Anschell. After a conventional start, the band stretches out on a free-flowing pulse for Matheny's "Bourdain."
Jimmy Webb's evergreen "Wichita Lineman" is a perfect fit for this quintet and although Matheny provides the lyric lines with the gentle presence that Glen Campbell did with his voice, Anschell's gospel-funk piano solo steals the show.
"Humble Origins" is an original donated by Bill Anschell, a very thoughtful and urbane melody, and John Coltrane's gorgeous lament "After the Rain" closes the album, Matheny adroitly caressing the melody as only the flugelhorn can.
Although Dmitri Matheny has made records since the mid-1990s, Cascadia is as good an entry point for newcomers as anything else in his catalog. This confirms his rightful place as the heir to the flugelhorn giant and his old mentor, the late great Art Farmer.