Jazz Incorporated – Live at Smalls – Smalls Live SL-0017, 58:17 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
(Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Louis Hayes, drums; Anthony Wonsey, piano; Dezron Douglas, bass)
It must the height of jazz nirvana to live in New York City. With so many jazz elite – both veterans and hot newcomers living in the Big Apple – it is easy to find band leaders merging for short term projects with an eager audience to share their efforts. Such is the case with the apparently recently formed Jazz Incorporated. They know there are venues to play, no need to travel, and they can pursue other projects and their own groups at the same time.
Smalls Club in Greenwich Village has been producing a prolific series of recordings featuring such short term aggregations of stars eager to play together with ego checked at the door and just a chance to communicate musically with kindred souls.
Jazz Incorporated is made up of Jeremy Pelt, Louis Hayes, Anthony Wonsey, and Dezron Douglas. Pelt has passed the moniker of being a young jazz lion and now can be considered a seasoned veteran, and can be found both with his own longer term group, as well as on numerous side projects. Louis Hayes needs no introduction to jazz fans. Going back to the 1950s, Hayes has held down the drummer chair in iconic groups of Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, and Oscar Peterson, just to name a few. Pianist Anthony Wonsey has been a force on the scene since the mid-1990s as being a member of groups led by Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, and Nicholas Payton, and has several CDs as a leader. Finally, bassist Dezron Douglas has been active with trombonist Steve Davis and pianist Cyrus Chestnut.
For a two day run at Smalls, Jazz Incorporated has included six tracks from their engagement. The first four are fairly well known standards, while the last two: “Hey, Jimmy” and “Shout!”, were written by Wonsey and Pelt respectively. The tracks range from seven to twelve minutes, so there is room for the group to stretch out, and both showcase an ensemble sound as well as solo. The highlighted artist is no doubt Pelt as solo horn, as well as a brash presence on the bandstand.
“Punsu,” written by Art Farmer opens with a relaxed groove with Wonsey laying down swinging blues-based lines, and Pelt, after an opening statement, re-appearing mid-track. Pelt’s horn is not miked effectively here and you get the sense that he is farther back on the stage, but his blowing power partly overcomes these deficiencies.
Duke Pearson’s “Is That So?” has a familiar melody and demonstrates Pearson’s strong sense of swing that has never received its proper accolades. Hayes’ presence in driving the band is felt here. Again, Pelt is not given proper placement in the mix. Gillespie’s “Woody ‘N You” follows and Pelt is much better placed in the mix and Wonsey’s fleet fingering is highlighted.
Rogers and Hammerstein’s “We Kiss in a Shadow,” the sole ballad at over ten minutes, gives Jeremy the chance to show his lyrical skills. His tone is warm and matched by few younger trumpeters for mid register sweetness. Wonsey caresses his solo choruses and his touch and resonance is exemplary.
“Hey, Jimmy” ups the energy quotient a bit and Wonsey’s tune has a undeniable winning club ambiance vibe. Pelt’s “Shout!” is hard bop heaven with Pelt’s swagger, much like Freddie Hubbard, in evidence. Dezron Douglas gets his most exposure here, and his walking bass solo shows he belongs with a group of this caliber. At over twelve and a half minutes, this track most effectively shows the group’s chops in full measure.
For fans of Pelt, and those that are in the mood for a New York club “experience,” Jazz Incorporated’s live Smalls’ set fits the bill nicely.
TrackList: Punsu, Is That So?, Woody ‘N You, We Kiss in a Shadow, Hey, Jimmy, Shout!
— Jeff Krow