Joshua Breakstone – 2nd Avenue – The Return Of The Cello-Quartet – Capri

Joshua Breakstone – 2nd Avenue – The Return Of The Cello-Quartet – Capri 74137-2, 71:24 ***1/2:

(Joshua Breakstone – guitar; Lisle Atkinson – bass; Andy Watson – drums; Mike Richmond – cello)

Although the cello could be regarded by some (incorrectly) as simply a mini-bass, its place in jazz has had mixed results. Apart from Fred Katz’s full-integration in the original Chico Hamilton Quintet of the mid-50s, and its adoption on a more limited basis by Harry Babasin and Oscar Pettiford, the cello has been looked on more as a novelty in a jazz construct. Guitarist Joshua Breakstone is challenging his hard-bop roots by bringing cellist Mike Richmond into the trio format on his latest release 2nd Avenue – The Return Of The Cello-Quartet.

Of the nine tracks on the album, five are with the cello starting with the Lee Konitz composition “Thingin’”. Based on the chord changes for “All The Things You Are”, Breakstone and Richmond start by engaging in some unison playing with Richmond using a plucking pizzicato-style on the cello, which he follows with a lengthy solo in the same manner. Breakstone then picks up the theme with his own exposition in a clever hard-bop mode. “Home” opens with some arco-bass playing by Atkinson as Breakstone and Richmond delve into harmonized lines in the background. As the tune progresses, each member of the band grabs some solo space with drummer Watson offering an extended break in exemplary fashion.

On his 1957 album Way Out West, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins along with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne offered their take on “I’m An Old Cowhand” which hasn’t had much play on any jazz album until the version done by the quartet. Here it swings along quite nicely, with Breakstone offering a couple of quotes from “How Are Things In Glocca Morra” although it remains a mystery why he felt it necessary to do so. Richmond stays on course with some nifty cello improvisation.

As for the trio tracks, “I Wish I Knew” is given a Latin vibe but with a ballad tempo, that accentuates Breakstone’s profuse mastery of the fretboard as he builds the texture of the number. Bassist Atkinson and drummer Watson provide empathetic support. “The Lamp Is Low” dashes out of the gate at breakneck speed pushed by the rhythm section. Breakstone is challenged to show that he can deliver a probing musical line while maintain the pace. There is also an interesting exchange of breaks with drummer Watson.  Finally “2nd Ave: Blues For Imahori” is as the name implies a minor blues, which allows the fleet-fingered Breakstone to polish his credentials. However the tune runs much too long, and the guitarist seems to run out of  new ideas half-way through the number.  While the album offers variety and inquisitiveness, the tracks might have benefited from more controlled editing. Sometimes “less is more”.

TrackList: Thingin’; Home; I’m An Old Cowhand; I Wish I Knew; Evergreenish; The Lamp Is Low; Hit It; My Conception; 2nd Ave: Blues For Imahori

—Pierre Giroux

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