Veteran jazz educator and trumpeter Dave Scott has a lot to offer in his second Steeplechase CD, contributing seven demanding originals. With tenor saxophonist Rich Perry, pianist Gary Versace, bassist John Hebert and drummer Jeff Williams, all of whom work with Scott from time to time (while also appearing on Scott's Song for Amy), the band was able to flesh out the trumpeter's songs during live gigs prior to entering the studio. The constantly shifting "Chromaddict" is simultaneously dark and inviting, with a punchy unison line by Scott and Perry. Versace introduces the mournful "Naiveté" alone, with the piece rapidly becoming very intricate as the full quintet is added. "Nothing Is Sacred" is easily the most dramatic piece of the session, with the horns often simultaneously improvising over Versace's delicious vamp. Dave Scott's music demands full attention to appreciate its depth, so it is easily recommended to post-bop fans with a taste for something new.
This may be Freddie Hubbard's finest moment as a leader, in that it embodies and utilizes all of his strengths as a composer, soloist, and frontman. On Red Clay, Hubbard combines hard bop's glorious blues-out past with the soulful innovations of mainstream jazz in the 1960s, and reads them through the chunky groove innovations of '70s jazz fusion. This session places the trumpeter in the company of giants such as tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Lenny White. Hubbard's five compositions all come from deep inside blues territory; these shaded notions are grafted onto funky hard bop melodies worthy of Horace Silver's finest tunes, and are layered inside the smoothed-over cadences of shimmering, steaming soul. The 12-minute-plus title track features a 4/4 modal opening and a spare electric piano solo woven through the twin horns of Hubbard and Henderson. It is a fine example of snaky groove music. Henderson even takes his solo outside a bit without ever moving out of the rhythmatist's pocket.
"Delphia" begins as a ballad with slow, clipped trumpet lines against a major-key background, and opens onto a midtempo groover, then winds back into the dark, steamy heart of bluesy melodicism. The hands-down favorite here, though, is "The Intrepid Fox," with its Miles-like opening of knotty changes and shifting modes, that are all rooted in bop's muscular architecture. It's White and Hancock who shift the track from underneath with large sevenths and triple-timed drums that land deeply inside the clamoring, ever-present riff.
Where Hubbard and Henderson are playing against, as well as with one another, the rhythm section, lifted buoyantly by Carter's bridge-building bassline, carries the melody over until Hancock plays an uncharacteristically angular solo before splitting the groove in two and doubling back with a series of striking arpeggios. This is a classic, hands down.
Supposedly a concept album about the disgraced 37th president of the United States (though the lyrics make no recognizable statements about Richard Nixon's infamous life and times), Lambchop's fifth full-length was a powerful consolidation of the strengths they'd gained since their uncertain debut in 1994. Kurt Wagner's sometimes singing/ sometimes talking vocal style, and lyrics that were oblique to the point of seeing surreal, remained a matter of taste, but his melodies hit a new peak in their beauty and evocative spirit as he merged countrypolitan country, smooth R&B, and chamber pop in ambitious and intriguing ways. And as Lambchop swelled to 13 musicians (not counting guest musicians, a choir, and the string section), the arrangements became increasingly sophisticated as Wagner and his collaborators used their rich palette of sounds to inspire a wealth of moods -- from the easygoing groove of "Grumpus" to the luxurious sadness of "Nashville Parent" -- and helped to clarify and strengthen that which seemed uncertain in Wagner's lyrics. And given the sheer ambition of this album, Nixon is a milestone in independent record making, music constructed on a grand scale that's richly satisfying without seeming overdone or tricked up simply for its own sake. And regardless of how one feels about Wagner's abilities as a singer, when he lets his heart do the talking on numbers like "The Distance from Her to There" and "The Book I Haven't Read," his sincerity is undeniable and affecting.
Calling Nixon Lambchop's masterpiece is to ignore the fine work they'd done before, and the similarly ambitious work that came afterward, but it is the point where they showed they were in full command of the tools and talents at their disposal, and its glorious eccentricities are as pleasurable as anything in their catalog.