Max Nagl

Big Four

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Loosely based on a couple of recording sessions from 1940 by the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, these mostly original tunes (only two are actually from the original period) are performed in the spirit of the original band, updated, of course, in the modern style with which the two horn players are identified. Bernstein's rubbery, klezmer-infused trumpet is always a pleasure, and he is particularly good at performing recognizable melodies in new ways, with smears, glissandi, pinched tones, and muted sounds. The underrated Max Nagl is a suitable partner, equally at home with 20th century harmonies as with swinging melodies. The ace in the hole is the eclectic, off-the-wall strumming of guitarist Noël Akchoté, who heats up the otherwise often-subdued moods and subtle voicings. The most interesting pieces may be the two chestnuts, "Lazy River" and "Squeeze Me," which give an idea of what this band is capable of producing. The former is played at a very slow pace, with the respectful yet far-from-reverent horns skirting the melody. The latter tune is twisted inside out, Bernstein's wah-wah mute joined by Nagl's simple, yet compelling, statements and Akchoté's dirty tones. While the extraordinary concept and the quality of the artists pump up the expectations, there are times, particularly with some of the new compositions, when the listener is left wishing for more. Nonetheless, there is some beautiful music throughout, and if it does not always project with the singularity of Bob Blumenthal's well-written and effusive liners, there is plenty here to stimulate the senses and perk the ears.

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