The Matthew Finck/Jonathan Ball Project – It’s Not That Far – self-produced 700261386560, 52:10 [10/1/13] ***1/2:
(Jonathan Ball – tenor saxophone, co-producer; Matthew Finck – guitar, co-producer; Randy Brecker – trumpet, Flugelhorn (tracks 2, 5, 7); Jay Anderson – bass; Adam Nussbaum – drums)
The debut for the Matthew Finck/Jonathan Ball Project, the self-produced It’s Not That Far, is a finely crafted album of traditional jazz which should easily appeal to fans of Sonny Rollins, Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow and other likeminded artists who perform mainstream jazz with hints of bop and cool jazz. This is savory music led by tenor saxophonist Ball and guitarist Finck. Ball has previously teamed up with Ira Coleman and Randy Gillespie, while Finck has collaborated with Roswell Rudd, John Medeski and Steve Wilson. On this effort, Ball and Finck are backed by bassist Jay Anderson (credits include Michael Franks, Phil Markowitz and Bob Mintzer); drummer Adam Nussbaum (whose diverse résumé comprises Steve Swallow, Lee Konitz and also Markowitz); and guest trumpet legend Randy Brecker (who is heard on three tracks).
The nine pieces (eight originals split equally between Ball and Finck; plus a cover of Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight”) present a warm amiability. The core quartet commences with a bustling boil on the title track, a Ball composition which accentuates his spirited tenor: he swings with full-blooded aplomb. He intertwines seamlessly with Finck on supple and curling phrases which outline the keen melody, while Anderson and Nussbaum supply a slightly Latin-esque rhythmic foundation. Ball’s hearty tenor is also distinct and well-honed on the lightly bluesy “Levin’s Impression,” where Nussbaum’s ticking cymbals offer tender support and Finck contributes a solo which brings to mind Pat Martino. Finck betrays some NYC roots on his restful “East 86th,” an easygoing cut which evokes couples sauntering to favorite Manhattan eateries, good friends enjoying each other’s company, maybe even a sojourn to a local jazz nightclub for a late show. Finck also displays his gift for ballads on the graceful and willowy “I Thought You Had Gone,” where Ball and Finck furnish lovely solos and lines, with sublime accompaniment from Anderson (who dispenses some tasty bass flourishes) and Nussbaum (who reveals his talent for picturesque brushwork). The foursome’s élan rises considerably on Finck’s closing, bop-ish “Get Up!” The tone is all fast-tempo, the arrangement is all swing, and the enthusiasm is all-insistent. Ball’s timbre and improvisation conjures Rollins, while Finck’s flashing six-string may remind some of Ellis’ work with Oscar Peterson.
The three numbers with Brecker magnify the group’s sonic complexion, without deviating from the overall aesthetic. Brecker adds coloring to Finck’s mid-tempo “Gentle Soul,” and sets down a filigreed solo at the halfway mark. Ball’s elastic “Conundrum” contains some solid tandem playing between Ball and Brecker, and then Brecker comes to the front and blows with fervor, followed by Finck’s fret-stretching solo, and then Ball’s fiery improv. The two horns then blend again with unison lines, with memorable give and take, which makes “Conundrum” a highlight. Ball’s twisting and turning “Geppetto” elevates the energy level even more, with Anderson’s driving bass, Nussbaum’s correspondingly persuasive rhythmic hub, and nearly a contest between sax, guitar and trumpet, who seemingly joust for most impressive spotlight: the winner, of course, is the listener. This independently-produced outing is sincerely structured, with abundantly capable playing, and has a sympathetic mingling of artistic attitudes, from cool and comfortable changes to lively and bouncy fluctuations. The audio job by Scott Petito (who mixed and mastered) is inclusive and has a prevalent affection which sustains the group’s arranging and performance.
TrackList: It’s Not That Far; Gentle Soul; Levin’s Impression; I Thought You Had Gone; Conundrum; East 86th; Geppetto; The Way You Look Tonight; Get Up!.