With a varied program of music from the pens of the Gershwin Brothers, Duke Ellington, and some originals, the George Maurer Group makes its debut recording with Jazz in Black and White. Pianist/composer Maurer and the members of the group work out of the Minneapolis, MN, area that can count several good jazz makers among its denizens. While this is the first album as leader of the group, it is Maurer's eighth album, all but one of them for the Pine Curtain label.
As the album title anticipates, this is a session of contrasts, not only in the types of music being presented, but the way it is being played. The performing styles run the gamut from 1920s jazz to bop to contemporary jazz. In between, there's the sweet, Broadway musical stage vocals of Ann Michels matched with and against the more modern Bobby McFerrin manner as practiced by singer Aaron-Keith Stewart. Michels does well when doing those songs that fit her semi classical musical background like "The Man I Love." She doesn't come off as well on such tunes as "One Note Samba." Likewise, Stewart's voice is better suited to modern material like Abbey Lincoln's "Not to Worry" but lacks the depth needed to make his vocal rendition of "Summertime" entirely satisfactory.
All of the instrumentalists are first-rate and extraordinarily versatile. Trumpet player Richard Witteman emulates Bix Beidebecke on "I Got Rhythm" then pays tribute to the cool jazz of Miles Davis on "Miles to Go." There's even a fugue figure or two by Maurer interspersed among the swing licks on "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing." This cut also features the happy, upbeat swing guitar and scatting of Muggsy Lauer. This back and forth between musical modes continues throughout the album. The contrasts are further sharpened with the John Coltrane-like soprano sax offerings of Bruce Thornton. Whatever the mode of playing, Scott Chabot's drums and Jeff Engholm's bass never lose track of the time and beat. Even though more work needs to be done with respect to establishing an identity for the group as well as with the vocals, this album is a good first-shot recording and is recommended.