Paul Keller

Pipe & Slippers

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The clear evidence of influence from George Shearing and the Modern Jazz Quartet is obvious when listening to the KKQ, with bassist/composer/arranger Keller, vibist Kocher, pianist Phil Kelly, and drummer Pete Siers. This Ann Arbor/Metro Detroit-based unit is clearly a working band with cool-jazz inclinations that are realized and embellished. Keller wrote four of the 12 selections; the other tunes are interesting choices not written by Shearing, Milt Jackson, or John Lewis, but with their imprint firmly stamped. Keller chooses an urgent, bluesy swing for his kicker "Sh'Poopie," with the unison piano and vibes which define how this group approaches nearly every tune. "Project X," also a chart for the Keller-led Bird of Paradise Orchestra, is stripped down to a shell, but it's still a hyper-bop tune with melodic references to "I Only Have Eyes for You." "A Minor Discovery" (double entendre) is an easy waltz with a spiritual vibe (pun) while the Shearing sound is most prevalent for the title cut, the ultimate cool, shimmering melody. Standards include a witty arrangement of "How High the Moon," ranging from laid-back lounge to upbeat bop and back to smoky and wistful; "Don't Worry 'Bout Me," which has inferences of "You Go to My Head"; and the joyous, very energetic, and melodically saturated "Rockin' in Rhythm." Asides include the delightful 16-bar blues swing of Ray Bryant's "Tonk," with bright and simple vibes leading as the rest follow -- definitely a high point. Oliver Jones' "Stan Pat" is a good selection, with ostinato bass from Keller sending Kelly into flight and Kocher catching up in unison. Then Siers rips off one of his patented clever solos. He and Kelly show their fierce musical expertise here. Rudy Stevenson's "Blues on Purpose" is led by bass as he talks back to two-note vibe-piano gossip. "Helen's Song" by George Cables dips deeply into midnight-blue spectrums with tick-tock samba and an active bass solo, as he also does on "Blues on Purpose." Keller really shows his potential greatness when acting alone with rhythmic support. Absolutely Shearing-like is the Bud Powell-Kenny Dorham bop anthem "Strictly Confidential" with oriental phrases, an easygoing tempo, and a mood reflective of what writer George Klein depicts in the liner notes as "the comfortable atmosphere of the '50s." As much as cool school heads will relate to this, others asking for more intensity can get that too; it's refined and condensed, yet not obvious. Of Keller's many side projects, this one ranks among his most thoughtful, while Kocher, Kelly, and Siers are classy players who deserve much more recognition, regionally and nationally.

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