Jazz Sides

Through The Years, When Evening Comes, Unknown Soldiers, Artscape Meanwhile, Tomorrow, Odd Man Out,

Doug Hall Quartet, JiHi

Label:CreOp, Twink, Sea Breeze, Sea Breeze, Viewpoint, and Heart Music

Austin is currently in the throes of an unprecedented outpouring of local jazz releases. Here, then, is a sampling of the most notable. Saxophonist/flutist Alex Coke, along with pianist Rich Harney, trumpeter Martin Banks, and the late drummer A.D. Mannion, constituted the core of the Worthy Constituents for more than a decade, even playing when Coke returned to town between globetrotting tours with Amsterdam's Willem Breuker Kollektief. Through the Years (CreOp), a cleverly packaged set of mostly original compositions collects highlights from various live performances on KUT recorded 1988-2001. The set traces the band's high level of group interaction and execution, attributes that continue to distinguish them on the local scene. Outstanding pianist/composer Dr. James Polk, a jazz professor at SWT in San Marcos, is now one of Austin's honored musical patriarchs. His long-awaited project, When Evening Comes (Twink), however, is disappointing. Despite surrounding himself with longtime colleagues in saxman Russell Remington and drummer Dexter Walker, Polk opts for a tepid "smooth jazz" sound. While this is obviously a component of his musical vision, the few straight-ahead tracks may not be enough to satisfy the jazz faithful. On the other hand, fans of the big band sound will relish the efforts of both Rick Lawn's 3rd Coast Jazz Orchestra on Unknown Soldiers (Sea Breeze), and Bob Myer's Concept Orchestra on Artscape (Sea Breeze). Both gentlemen are former UT jazz directors, and each demonstrates his formidable talents as an arranger/composer on these sessions. Meyer, a fine trumpeter who handles the primary soloist chores in his band, blows a more relaxed sound you might hear on a club date. By contrast, Lawn leads his troops through tight, bristling arrangements of his original compositions. Both projects are certainly noteworthy and raise the bar for big band recordings in this town. Bassist John Fremgen has been ubiquitous of late as a producer and band member on other people's recordings and club gigs, but Meanwhile (Viewpoint) gives him an opportunity to step into the spotlight as bandleader and accomplished soloist. His trio here is particularly notable for the presence of famed, tasteful drummer Peter Erskine and for the long-overdue spotlighting of guitarist Mitch Watkins. Chris Maresh is another bassist who's no stranger on the local scene. His self-produced/self-released debut Tomorrow is a no-nonsense piano trio affair of all original compositions fleshed out by the talents of drummer Brannen Temple and Steven Snyder on the 88 keys. As a member of various other groups around town, Snyder is the focal point here and is superb in lending an utterly relaxed, after-hours ambience to this splendid session. Snyder is also an integral member of the standard quartet Odd Man Out, whose impressive, self-titled debut on Viewpoint is a straight-ahead venture. This foursome of former UT music students has already developed a cohesive group sound that's full of vitality. Now that we know they've got the chops, these gentlemen might consider taking some risks and being a bit more adventurous on their next outing. Perhaps they could take some pointers from pianist Doug Hall whose upcoming release, JiHi (Heart Music) will be out next month. The unassuming Hall is one of Austin's unheralded musical treasures. His brilliantly impressionistic, intensely probing, and sometimes even witty pianism is at the heart of this terrific session of all originals. Recorded in NYC with brother Bruce Hall on drums, ringer Adam Kolker (from Ray Barretto's band) on sax, and top-shelf engineer Jim Anderson at the controls, JiHi serves up an elegant, carefully crafted musical feast for the mind and senses. Hall is a delight to listen to. If only we didn't have to wait several years between his albums.

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