THESE GUYS just wanna have fun!… and how clearly that message is conveyed, from the amiable tenor/piano intro and throughout The New Straight Ahead. Taking on ‘the jazz standards’ and setting them off in all kinds of new directions – avoiding the cracks and potholes of mediocrity and tedium – is no mean feat. But, on this joyous Whirlwind debut, the NYSQ (New York Standards Quartet) possess experience and passion, in spades, to carry it off.
Although a clear and immediate studio recording, the mood here is one of stumbling in off the street to find the most gloriously-ebullient four-piece at full tilt, buying a beer or two and waiting to discover which unlikely jazz avenue is traversed next. And up on stage, bringing this affectionate, colorised journey to life, are renowned musicians Tim Armacost (saxes), David Berkman (piano), Daiki Yasukagawa (bass) and Gene Jackson (drums).
Take, for example, It Don’t Mean a Thing which, contrary to the sentiment of the original lyric, finds a new spirit when taken on a surprisingly different rhythmic path. Both the dissective reworking and Tim Armacost’s soprano resemble the inquiring artistry of Wayne Shorter, Ellington’s original rapid swing smoothed into a broader, more leisurely, but still upbeat tempo. Evergreen (or browny orange) Autumn Leaves opens in familiar enough territory, but then takes off apace to Armacost’s liquid tenor, the band audaciously dipping in and out of 7/8 with palpable glee. Daiki Yasukagawa’s perfectly pliant bass sets up a boisterous interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s The Maze which bristles to a fervid bass and drum propulsion, with scintillating solo displays both from ‘Dexter’ Armacost and David Berkman at the piano.
Delightfully lush chords introduce When You Wish Upon a Star – mellow Scott Hamilton-style meanderings on the classic Disney tune of Harline/Washington; Remember finds Armacost in a perky Stan Getz state of mind, its assured, effervescent pulse courtesy of Gene Jackson’s flamboyance at the kit; and the piano quirkiness of Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso is embraced by Berkman, with Armacost’s sax offering an added dimension. Ah-leu-cha is one of the stand-outs of the album, a near-eight-minute offering which carries Charlie Parker’s original along on a wave of soprano-infused energy; and, in contrast, beautifully lyrical tenor improvisations on Jobim’s Zingaro relax to a gently shimmering South American piano and percussion sundown.
Released on 22 July 2014, this fourth NYSQ release warmly demonstrates how adaptable, in qualified hands, such old favourites can be… and it’s a great vibe to return to again and again. The band are clearly proud of their current eight years together, touring internationally, and happy to quote a Tokyo nightclub listener’s compliment: “I can hear each guy doing his own thing, but you’re doing it together”.
Visit the album page at Whirlwind for more information, promo video and purchasing.
Tim Armacost tenor and soprano saxophones
David Berkman piano
Daiki Yasukagawa double bass
Gene Jackson drums
Whirlwind Recordings – WR4654 (2104)