Although this octet plays mainly tradition-bound hard bop, it still can justifiably call itself "new." David Weiss -- founder, leader, and trumpeter of the New Jazz Composers Octet -- is joined by some highly advanced young straight-ahead jazzers, including pianist Xavier Davis, tenor saxophonist Gregory Tardy, alto saxophonist Myron Walden, bassist Dwayne Burno, and drummer Nasheet Waits.
Compositionally speaking, Davis and Walden are the stars of the record. Walden pens the mellow yet challenging "I'll Always Love You" and the multi-layered "Untitled in A flat Minor." In addition to the medium-fast "First Steps Into Reality," Davis contributes a waltz titled "When the Spirit Hits," as well as the ambitious final track, "Liberation." Dwayne Burno's "I'm A Comin' Home" begins and ends in ballad fashion with a chorale-like minor melody, morphing into a medium-slow minor blues for the solos. Tenor Gregory Tardy blows with restrained, elegant fire, and the late James Farnsworth, to whom the album is dedicated, takes his turn on baritone. Weiss' trumpet solos are redoubtable on "Tribute to the Elders," "First Steps," and especially "D Minor Mint," a Freddie Hubbard composition arranged by Weiss and the one non-original of the session.
Other performance highlights include Andrew Williams' fluid trombone solos on "First Steps" and "D Minor Mint." Jimmy Greene and Dave Rickenberg replace Tardy and Farnsworth, respectively, on three tracks. Greene turns in fine solos on "D Minor Mint" and "When the Spirit Hits."