Mainstream, straight-ahead, well-played jazz is alive and well, courtesy of pianist Rob Schneiderman and his very fine quintet of Ralph Moore (tenor sax), Brian Lynch (trumpet), Peter Washington (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums). They collectively coax and conjure the feeling of the 1950s' Blue Note-Riverside hard-to-post bop sound that remains timeless and forever swinging. The leader wrote five of these nine selections with this era in mind, while also recognizing that being a modernist doesn't necessarily mean throwing traditions overboard. While unspectacular, Schneiderman is the glue here, and supports his band with a foundation that allows his excellent mates to flourish under this balanced system.
Of the originals, the title track has clarion echoes of trumpet and tenor trading statements prior to a 12-bar quick, bluesy theme, with Schneiderman on the attack immediately via his piano solo. "City Limits" is most like Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers style -- a solid, original melody, not fanciful but simple and direct, centered, melody repeated, and the deepest blue here. "The Lion's Mane" is a bop head on a blues pedestal -- nothing intricate, but soulful; "East Bay Blues" is a Latin soul groove unmistakably influenced by Horace Silver; and "Silent Conversation" is a heartfelt melodic exchange between Lynch and Schneiderman. Lynch wrote the highlight "Smoke Screen," a sneaky ostinato bass vamp with muted trumpet and tenor playing a stripped down melody that is the most deeply embedded in late '50s composition. Standards include the trumpet-led, tenor-to-follow melody of "The Touch of Your Lips," and they switch places for "This Love of Mine," both good swingers. The most daring arrangement is on "People Will Say We're in Love," where a jungle inspired pedal point ostinato bass sets up Nash's tom-tom waves, Moore's soprano sax solo, and Lynch's deft, poignant statement.
There's something to be said, whether contrary or laudatory, about retro-fitted mainstream jazz, but in this case one can only marvel at the musicianship present. All are solid, free of cliche improvisers and ensemble mates -- a promising combination that should stick together and do more in midnight blue spectrums.