In case you haven't heard, Nozero is the finest mainstream jazz alto saxophonist to come out of Detroit since Charles McPherson. His flowing, lyrical lines focus on ultra-melodic elements without sounding schmaltzy, nostalgic, or copied. He's a true original, using equal parts of smooth Stan Getz, biting Art Pepper, and fleet Charlie Parker euphonics, exploiting them to the max in this live concert setting while avoiding overkill. Pianist Terry Lower wrote four of these seven cuts and proves not only a capable composer, but a fine player. Bassist Ray Tini and drummer Jim Ryan round out the core quartet, while trumpeter Rob Smith (who also doubles on tenor sax but unfortunately left it at home for this gig) is an equally tuneful foil for Nozero's tonic notions.
Of the originals, "Simple Solutions" exemplifies the centerpiece melodicism, a midtempo swing that is the saxophonist's comfort zone, while using occasional honks and Bird-like take-off's in his solo. "You Never Know" is a marvelously soulful, understated waltz, "Step By Step" is a hot samba to bopper, while "Time to Whine" is a groove biscuit accented by Smith's unison lines with Nozero. You'll hear one of the most unique, spirited arrangements of "Harlem Nocturne" ever conceived, sporting a modal, Afro-Cuban theme powered by Smith and Lower, moving to effortless, easy swing and back over 12+ minutes. Smith is wailin', Nozero approaching his feverishness. Of course there's stark romanticism in Nozero's warm blood, heard on the serene waltz "Somewhere," as you hear most definitively Nozero's expressive, expansive extroversion, particularly on his solo, while the ballad closer "Laura" is languid to the nth degree, with Smith's solo again setting the tone. Rob Smith is the real sleeper here, an excellent musician the jazz world should pay further attention to.
The core unit is a working band, and it shows, especially via the mercurial drumming of Jim Ryan. Nozero has several other recordings out (most featuring his equally fine flute playing,) but this clearly is his best, and perhaps bodes well for a second volume being released, since he's played at practically every one of the twenty Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festivals. Highly recommended.