Todd Coolman

Perfect Strangers

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Mainstream modern jazz bassist Todd Coolman has taken up a unique approach for finding new music to play on this, his third recording as a leader. Establishing an open call for new music writers through the Internet over a year's time, Coolman picked these tracks from composers he did not know and had never met to showcase their sounds through his style. It's a meeting of the minds that generally reflects a retro hard bop to post-bop feeling à la Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, but updated. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and trumpeter Brian Lynch are well versed in this kind of straight-ahead jazz, with charted melodies that require precise reading skills and soulful traverses through solid swing and unmistakable jazz modes. Pianist Jim McNeely, a brilliant and underappreciated performer, is the glue that, with Coolman and drummer John Riley, brings these new pieces to life and full fruition. Although bassists rarely choose the spotlight, opting instead for a traditional supportive role, Coolman does step up on the pleasant, unfazed modal waltz written by Bill Stevens, "Full Circle." Where McNeely is usually a powerful presence, he's playing delicate lines with the serene horns during Ryan Truesdell's "Pastorale," where unison and harmony are the keys. The most impressive track is written by Dana Malseptic, as "Connotation" lives up to its title with ultra modern multiple melody snippets -- simple and complex -- sewn together as if implied but never overt, with McNeely's energetic solo as trimming. There's New Orleans shuffle meeting Blakey's indefatigable swing on Evan Cobb's "Crescent City Ditty"; Mike Williamson's "Caribbean Sunset" has a somewhat pedestrian midtempo Latin beat; and Erica Seguine's sweet, understated "C Minor Waltz" features Alexander's melancholy tenor filling in cracks opposite Lynch's lead. More in the post-bop vein, Mark Saltman's "Could You Imagine?" is a refit of late-'50s Blue Note fare, with Alexander's fluent tenor evoking the Hank Mobley-Sonny Rollins-John Coltrane strain. The idea of perfect strangers being completely unknown to each other is only a starting point for Coolman and his very talented cadre of writers and performers. It's similar to a theater troupe coming together on a play through rehearsals, ending after much trial and error with a practiced, well-thought-out, and eventually brilliantly executed product. Fans all over the jazz spectrum should thoroughly enjoy this finely crafted effort.

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