Gary Keller

Blues for an Old New Age

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Don't let the title fool you -- there's not a speck of new age or Chicago blues on this modern, mainstream jazz date, featuring the Keller ensemble and the compositions of Ron Miller, both stalwarts of instruction at the University of Miami/Florida. Keller plays mostly tenor sax and a little soprano, Scott Wendholt (trumpet) and John Fedchock (trombone) crop up on many cuts, Kenny Werner is all over it on piano, and drummer Billy Hart gives it his all in yet another inspired recorded performance. Bassist Drew Gress rounds out the combo. Keller himself is from the post-Coltrane strain of Joe Henderson-style spirits. This is heard clearly on the final two selections, "Sweet Illusions" and "Last Illusion" -- the former using serene Randy Brecker-esque harmony between trumpet and tenor, the latter with a head that is defiant, riled up, and almost angry. Keller's solos span the depths of Henderson's blue spectrum. Werner is the show-stopper on this date. His heavy-handed, gunslinging accents and soloing on "Last Illusion" only meant he had to reload. The earlier cuts feature him cutting loose several times, especially on his solos. For the title track, a distinct Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers hard bop group swing sets Werner and Hart ablaze. A pensive but still fervent Werner stockpiles melody in the expansive Kenny Wheeler-like composition "J.C. on the Land" for fellow teacher Jerry Coker. The horn lines on this piece cry out well after midnight, clarion clear. On the inventive "Monk Strut," contrary positions are taken between piano sauntering and drum chatter, while horns roll with the punches, recoil a bit, and swing at the bridge. Werner also inserts "Trinkle Tinkle" nuances during this hefty bit of Miller's composition. Re-harmonizations of "Body & Soul (Soul Bod)" and "Giant Steps (Small Feats)" sound nothing like the originals. The quartet working only with Keller's soprano is heard on the simultaneously heavy and light (thanks again to Werner) "Babes of Cancun," and on the ballad "Peacock Park." This is a fine showcase for Miller's thoughtful, creative compositional bent, and Keller's ensemble interprets the music with a cobbler's deft touch. The public hasn't caught much wind of either to date, but there's more music here than meets the ear in one sitting. Listen and savor several times over, and look for a follow-up -- it's needed.

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