John McNeil: East Coast Cool (2006)
Trumpeter/composer John McNeil is after a "third stream of sorts with East Coast Cool. His avowed purpose is to meld the cool jazz feel of the Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker quartet (which featured baritone sax and trumpet, but no piano) with the more decentralized approach and edge of modern free jazz. While it's impossible to know how the masters of yesterday might have approached this challenge, McNeil (who played with Mulligan and arranged for his tribute band) submits a pretty convincing model here.
Comprised mostly of McNeil originals, East Coast Cool is overall a well-balanced album. There are through-composed pieces like the laid-back modal "A Time to Go, with a beautiful melody in the horns, as well as harmonically or metrically free numbers, and tracks that are both in turn. Near the end of "Internal Hurdles, the group emerges from some far-flung free playing to sneak back into the theme. The seamless transition announces that you're in the hands of a highly skilled ensemble.
For this project McNeil assembled some top-notch instrumentalists. His quartet features Allan Chase's brawny but acrobatic baritone, Matt Wilson's nimble drumming (mainly with brushes) and John Hebert's rich bass. Standout tracks include the gentle ballad "Wanwood, featuring one of McNeil's more understated yet inspired solos; and "Waltz Helios, whose quirky two-note theme alternates with more flowing melodies. On "Delusions, Wilson begins a snare drum roll almost imperceptibly with the brushes and builds a wonderfully controlled crescendo nearly a minute long.
Track Listing: Deadline; A Time to Go; Brother Frank; Bernie's Tune; Duet #1; Delusions; Wanwood; Internal Hurdles; Duet #2; Waltz Helios; Schoenberg's Piano Concerto; GAB.
Personnel: John McNeil: trumpet; Allan Chase: baritone saxophone; John Hebert: bass; Matt Wilson: drums, slide whistle.