Trumpeter Phil Grenadier's debut features a strong quintet, with Seamus Blake on tenor sax, Ethan Iverson on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass, and Bill Stewart on drums. Opening with the title track, the album's sole original, Grenadier sets a tone of open, propulsive swing. Iverson lays out as tenor and trumpet execute the spare, syncopated melody before embarking on a round of trading over a repeating bass figure. The next two tracks, "Alone Together" and Jobim's "Portrait in Black and White," are in a more straight-ahead vein, featuring compelling melody statements from Grenadier, strong solos, and spirited group interplay. Bob Nieske's "Emma" signals a return to the vibe of the leadoff track, again with no piano and an adventurous tenor-trumpet solo rotation. Next, Grenadier and company do a lovely job on Kenny Wheeler's tranquil "Ma Belle Helene." Grenadier's debt to the expatriate trumpeter and composer is unmistakable; Iverson's solo flight is understated yet wondrous.
A spontaneous free improvisation titled "Cali Mist" sets up the most unusual repertoire choice on the album: Beck's "Derelict" from the album Odelay. Iverson exits once again, and Doug Weiss joins Larry Grenadier to form an Ornette Coleman-esque two-bass team. The song's languid melody is stretched over the hazy, rubato bar lines, creating a mysterious prelude to the dark, minor-key groove that prevails on the rest of the piece. Like so many young, adventurous jazz musicians, Grenadier is unafraid to borrow from the varied catalog of pop culture to inspire new jazz ideas. On the very next track, however, he hearkens back to tradition with a moving trumpet/bass duo reading of Horace Silver's classic ballad "Lonely Woman." The full group finishes with an up-tempo reworking of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," which contains some very surprising trumpet/tenor harmonizations on the first phrase of the melody. Again, Iverson more than makes up for his absences with a stunning solo.
Phil Grenadier, already a valued sideman, is off to a very promising start as a leader. His resourcefulness as an arranger and lyrical gifts as a player make him an inspiring talent to watch.