Two Sides of the Verve Jazz Ensemble
The Verve Jazz Ensemble’s album It’s About Time does double duty as merchandise and demo reel. It’s as if to say, this is what we sound like, tight and together in the studio…and this is us playing the second set at your club on a Friday night after a few drinks. To follow this cynical thread to its logical extreme, why play familiar standards, from Miles Davis to Henry Mancini, when you could be playing your own music? Maybe because these guys – Tatum Greenblatt on trumpet and flugelhorn, Jon Blanck on tenor sax, Matt Oestreicher on piano, Chris DeAngelis on bass and Josh Feldstein on drums – have so much fun doing it.
One of the reasons why this is a fun, purist album is Blanck’s arrangements. For example, they do the album’s second track, Softly As in a Morning Sunrise, a little faster than most groups do, as a dark bolero. That’s the “album version,” the first take. There’s also a second take, which trades the band’s intense focus for a far looser but rewardingly reckless approach lit up by a febrile Blanck solo: it more than hints at what this group may have up their collective sleeves.
Another cool arrangement is their take of Big Swing Face, the horns doing a boisterous approximation of the Buddy Rich big band version against Oestreicher’s glistening neon resonance. The album ends with a second take of that one, which is a lot faster and gives Greenblatt a welcome chance to cut loose and go as high as the band does here.
Miles’ Boplicity gets a careful, judicious treatment, but Greenblatt’s second solo is less wee hours than warmly anticipatory, bringing in a vivid early morning ambience. They do
Henry Mancini’s The Days of Wine and Roses as a piano/bass/drums trio, swinging up to a succinct, ringing Oestreicher solo and eventually a clever series of false endings. Duke Jordan’s Jordu gives them a chance to work jaunty syncopation against a tireless bass walk. There are also two versions of Tadd Dameron’s Lady Bird: the first with a lustrous sheen from the horns and a matter-of-fact swing, the second a looser, more relaxed, nocturnal take with a sinuous DeAngelis solo.
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