Chris Massey’s Nue Jazz Project – Vibrainium – Chris Massey Music, 45:46 [9/2/10] ****:
(Chris Massey – drums, producer; Donald Malloy – trumpet; Benjamin Drazen – alto and soprano saxophone; Evgeny Lebedev – piano; David Ostrem – bass)
Drummer Chris Massey evokes two areas of interest from the 1960s – Marvel comic books and Blue Note-era jazz – on his self-released debut as a leader, Vibrainium, credited to the Nue Jazz Project quintet. Massey might not be familiar to some, but has performed with Donald Harrison, Jr., Joe Lovano, Dave Holland and members of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and has worked as an instructor and composer.
The opener, “Galactus,” refers to the world-eating, universe-hopping supervillain who tries to destroy Earth – he should be recognizable to anyone who has read “The Fantastic Four” comic books – while the tune aurally calls to mind Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, with its uptempo and forceful swing and bop-inclined jazz vocabulary. The insistent, ten-minute piece showcases the strength and determination of Massey, trumpeter Donald Malloy (who has extensive credits as a sideman and is a solo artist), saxophonist Benjamin Drazen (who heads his own band), pianist Evgeny Lebedev and bassist David Ostrem. The cut kicks off with a bounding groove accented by Massey’s rim shots and Ostrem’s appealing bass line. The two horns then charge through persuasive solos that include sharp and bent notes: Drazen in particular creates combustion. Near the end Massey dives into a cascading Jeff “Tain” Watts-inflected solo.
The title track is another obscure reference to the Marvel comic book cosmos: the title is a slight variation on a super-metal that, among other instances, was used in Captain America’s shield. Musically, this composition builds from a cool structure to a light turbulence and back again, underlined by Massey’s cymbals and Ostrem’s exploratory bass, Lebedev’s overlapping keyboards and Drazen’s assured soprano. As “Vibrainium” reaches the final crest, trumpet and sax intersect for an ebbing, emotional closure.
Folklore and mythology are also touchstones. The fivesome’s name, Nue, alludes to a Japanese creature with a monkey’s head, the body of a raccoon dog, a tiger’s legs and a snake as a tail and is a harbinger of misfortune or illness. Luckily, Massey’s Nue Jazz Project has no ill-defined characteristics. African myth, as well as African cadence, is replete on Massey’s polyrhythmic percussive solo sojourn, “Chango,” which honors a god of thunder revered in certain Latin American, Caribbean and West African religions.
The other four selections are covers or were written by band members. Malloy’s “Smooth” has a lustrous, temperate feel with sinuous trumpet and sax solos. The ending number, Drazen’s breakneck “Mr. Twilight,” has a swinging arrangement with a brisk soprano sax improvisation, an outstanding Lebedev piano solo filled with fervor and Malloy’s Freddie Hubbard-esque trumpet workout. The program also features Joe Henderson’s prominent “Inner Urge,” which was a high point for 1960s jazz and corresponds aptly to the Nue Jazz Project’s era-specific emphasis. The group’s full-bodied rendition retains Henderson’s inquisitive melodic theme and is highlighted by rebellious solo eruptions. Massey and Drazen withdraw during the Lebedev-led translation of Chick Corea’s mid-‘60s classic, “Windows” – sometimes also known as “The Windows” – a nicely rendered, stylish ballad with contemporary flourishes.
3. Inner Urge
7. Mr. Twilight
— Doug Simpson