If one wants a good idea of where New York jazz was heading as of the year 2000, this album is a good place to start. Pianist Jason Lindner's Stretch Records debut showcases the big band he has paid dues with at New York's Smalls club for several years. The leader's piano plays a relatively minor role, but his prowess as a composer and arranger comes across loud and clear. Lindner's eclecticism is bold and purposeful, not trendy. A brief, highly modern intro opens the record, giving way to the classic, bop-oriented big-band sound of the title track, which features a great tenor break by guest soloist Gregory Tardy. But then trombonist Avi Lebovich's "Mr. Demargary" comes along, defying categorization altogether, setting up spirited trading between Alex Norris on flügelhorn and Diego Urcola on muted trumpet, as well as a sweet Fender Rhodes solo by Lindner. It's not bebop, it's not Latin, it's not funk: it's all of these things and more, a precocious brew with an urban, bohemian edge.
The album continues along these unpredictable lines. There's Lindner's avant-leaning two-part "Space" suite, his ballad "Aquarius," and two more charts by Lebovich: the rubato horn chorale "Avner" and the Latin-tinged, enigmatic "Closure." Guest bassist Avishai Cohen's brilliant "Gaga," with over the top wah-wah electric bass and Rhodes textures, sounds like interplanetary party music. "Mary's Vibe," dedicated to the late pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, features rap lyrics delivered by MC Benu Merata, a radically different Williams tribute than trumpeter Dave Douglas's Soul on Soul released earlier the same year. Hip-hop/jazz crossover attempts such as this can easily fall flat, but this works, giving the album further relevance and depth.
There are additional guest appearances by Dwayne Burno, Jeff Ballard, and David Pleasant. Lindner's core rhythm section players, bassist Omer Avital, drummer Daniel Freedman, and percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell, anchor the groove without fail. Altoist Myron Walden contributes a fiery solo on the hard-swinging "Incantation," and tenorist Jimmy Greene is spotlighted on "Gaga" and the Blakey-esque blues "U Near Blew!"
Lindner deserves recognition as one of jazz's most important arrangers and composers, and this album ought to help him secure it.