The Jeff Holmes Quartet Gets Tuneful and Thoughtful
Calling a jazz album “mellow” is usually the kiss of death. But consider: Birth of the Cool is a mellow album. So is Kind of Blue. For that matter, so is a lot of Time Out. The Jeff Holmes Quartet’s new Miles High release Of One’s Own follows in that tradition: tuneful and laid-back, with a nonchalant, warm camaraderie between the musicians. Though there are many subtle shades here, it’s a reminder that darkness isn’t a prerequisite for depth.
As lively as some of the music becomes, the band plays singlemindedly: pianist Holmes, reedman Adam Kolker, bassist James Cammack and drummer Steve Johns lock into the vibe, always on top of the moment when it’s time to chill. Holmes has a gift for writing lyrical songs without words: every one of his originals here is strong. The best of them is One for C.J., a deliciously catchy, understated cha-cha jazz hit, Kolker evoking his best work with Ray Baretto’s band with his swirling, smoky, chromatically fueled bass clarinet. Another standout is Rose on Driftwood , Kolker again on bass clarinet, Cammack and Johns artfully shifting the rhythm from a circular Ethiopian groove to a latin funk vibe while Holmes works vivid light/dark dichotomies.
That kind of slow, almost imperceptible trajectory to an unexpected crescendo happens again and again throughout the album. They take Toby Holmes’ Waltz #3 from warm ballad mode to more pensive, fueled by Kolker’s thoughtful, allusively bluesy tenor sax and then Cammack’s spacious bass solo, but then go up and out on a high note. It makes a good setup for Holmes’ title track, a clinic in judicious crescendos that winds up with a much more minimalist, goodnaturedly wry outro.
Macaroons reaches for a Bill Frisell/Jeremy Udden Americana jazz catchiness, building toward a ragtime-inspired feel, while The Senses Delight, a gentle ballad, stays far enough aloft to escape the tender trap, both Holmes and Kolker (on tenor here) both careful not to overstate their case. By contrast, they play Poinciana with a surreal, midsummer balminess, spacious and suspenseful – it’s a great song to begin with, and they really nail it, Holmes’ careful precision echoed by Cammack while Johns casually develops a slow samba pace. A carefree take of John Abercrombie’s Labour Day and a rather triumphant version of the Rodgers/Hammerstein standard So Long, Farewell complete the picture, an attractive one in every sense of the word.
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