Tuesday, April 5, 2011

EASY LISTENING

Tenor saxophonist Mike Lee and trumpeter Ted Chubb co-lead New Tricks, a quartet they formed with drummer Shawn Baltazor and bassist Kellen Harrison after hooking up at a jam session six years ago. In 2009, the quartet released a self-titled disc. "Alternate Side," an easy to digest post-bop date, is New Tricks' second outing and it's in record stores today. The tunes are originals written by Lee and Chubb. They take a page from Ornette Coleman’s playbook.

"Alternate Side" is similar to Coleman's "Tomorrow is the Question," and "The Shape of Jazz to Come". New Tricks play without a pianist. For such a rambunctious group that's risky. They risk stressing out the drummer and bassist. The pianist is normally shoulders the brunt of harmonic workload. On "Alternate Take," Lee and Chubb assume that responsibility.

A jazz reporter once asked Sonny Rollins why on albums such as “Way Out West” and “The Freedom Suite” he gave the pianist the day off. Rollins explained the fellows in the band rely too much on the pianist. To play in a piano-less situation, a musician must have exceptional chops. Do Lee and Chubb agree with Rollins? That’s unknown. New Tricks piano free rhythm section is exceptional.

"Alternate Side-Parking" and “New Dog are sweltering tunes Lee wrote. Lee--a disciple of the sax apostle Joe Lovano--is aggressive like a storm trooper. Like the late trumpeter Booker Little, Chubb likes to hangout in the upper register of the trumpet. "Vicenza Day" is the only ballad on the disc, giving us a moment to catch our breath before the band takes off again.

You'd think the drummer and bassist would wear out fast without a pianist to help. Neither Baltazor nor Harrison shows any signs of fatigue. Some free jazz music is hard to stomach. The musicians honk, squeal, and thrash as if they’ve lost their minds. On "Alternate Side," New Tricks never go overboard.
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