Todd Coolman: Perfect Strangers (2008)
Among the more in-demand musicians in New York, bassist and Director of Jazz Studies at Purchase College (SUNY), Todd Coolman and his Learning Community Quintet throw the dice here in a gamble to present an original concept album with a risky proposition clearly bound to pay musical dividends with critical acclaim. Perfect Strangers, Coolman's third album as leader, is a very apropos title for an ArtistShare Records project because, when referring to these seven new charts, it accurately describes music written by perfect strangers who are hardly recognized names.
The music performed on this recording are originals submitted to Coolman's ArtistShare website as a result of an open call for compositions as part of his internet-based Learning Community project, challenging the bassist and his formidable quintet to paint a colorful and creative musical picture from a palette of unknown material. The unquestioned result is that Perfect Strangers stands out as a successful gamble that surely paid off.
The lucky composition winners include Evan Cobb ("Crescent City Ditty"), Bill Stevens ("Full Circle"), Dana Malseptic ("Connotation"), Mark Saltzman ("Could You Imagine"), Erica Sequine ("C Minor Waltz"), Mike Williamson ("Caribbean Sunset") and Ryan Truesdell ("Pastorale").
For this unusual project, Coolman calls on four jazz luminaries; among them Eric Alexander, whose tenor saxophone voice lends a special touch. Trumpeter Brian Lynch blows an assertive horn on the opener, "Crescent City Ditty" and throughout, while drummer John Riley and pianist Jim McNeely are simply brilliant in the rhythm section as confirmed by their piano and drum work on "Caribbean Sunset"
McNeely is also stellar on Stevens' "Full Circle," in between stylish solos from Lynch and Alexander. The saxophonist is especially pronounced on two of the best numbers here, "Could You Imagine" and "Caribbean Sunset." Not to be outdone, Coolman also weighs in with his share of strong bass work providing the musical glue that holds the group together.
Perfect Strangers is an exciting introduction to wonderful contemporary modern jazz that may have never been heard were it not for the creative process that was brought to light. Coolman's quintet of renowned musicians embarks into unfamiliar territory and provides a glimpse of the unknown musical talent that exists by performing music that deserves to be heard.
Track Listing: Crescent City Ditty; Full Circle; Connotation; Could You Imagine; C Minor Waltz; Caribbean Sunset; Pastorale.
Personnel: Todd Coolman: bass; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Brian Lynch: trumpet; Jim McNeely: piano; John Riley: drums.