The Verve Jazz Ensemble – It’s About Time

by | Jun 5, 2013 | Jazz CD Reviews

The Verve Jazz Ensemble – It’s About Time – Self–produced, 53:21 ***½:

(Tatum Greenblatt – trumpet & Flugelhorn; Jon Blanck – tenor saxophone; Matt Oestreicher – piano; Chris De Angelis – bass; Josh Feldstein – drums)

The Verve Jazz Ensemble is not affiliated in any way with Verve Records and that may not be a good thing for the label. With their self-produced release It’s About Time the label may want to listen and think seriously adding them to their artist base.

In today’s hyper-competitive world of jazz recordings, it is not all that unusual for groups who are just starting to build a following, to self-produce their debut efforts. Most labels are loath to offer recording contracts to budding musicians except in unusual circumstances where they can determine that the costs associated with their efforts will be easily recouped. Just look at most labels’ catalogues and it quickly becomes apparent that there are many more re-issues of older material from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s compared to new recordings.

The VJE, a quintet which is based on the U.S. East Coast brings to the table a robust and neat style, which is solidly in the straight-ahead jazz tradition. This session is comprised of covers several be-bop anthems, along with a couple of standards from the American songbook that work particularly well in a jazz setting. Tad Dameron’s “Lady Bird” is a fitting introduction to the band as it shows that these guys know the material. With an arrangement by tenor saxophonist Jon Blanck, bassist Chris De Angelis and pianist Matt Oestreicher strut their stuff.

“Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” has been done numerous times with the MJQ version as the standard, but the VJE has found a kernel of innovation in the material and has presented the tune with an uncluttered style. When a big band powers up like the Buddy Rich aggregation of the mid-‘60s and delivers “Big Swing Face”, it may be hard to imagine a quintet version. However with some inspirational drumming from leader Josh Feldstein and a solid arrangement by tenor-man Jon Blanck, the VJE pulls it off with vigor and liveliness.  When the Miles Davis & Gil Evans ode “Boplicity” comes to mind, it is remembered as a mid-tempo swinger. This band brings it to life in a semi-ballad style that works surprisingly well with Tatum Greenblatt asserting himself on Flugelhorn.

On Henry Mancini’s “Days Of Wine And Roses” there is a sparkling introduction combining the bass of Chris De Angelis and the tasty brush work of Josh Feldstein before segueing into a block-chord Red Garland-style piano offering from Matt Oestreicher. “Jordu,” the Duke Jordan anthem, rides on the trumpet of Greenblatt supported again with some fine piano by Oestreicher and some classy drum breaks from Feldstein. The final three tracks are alternate takes of “Lady Bird”, Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” and “Big Swing Face” which, while nice enough, should have been dropped for either a couple of originals from the group or other covers.

A solid collective effort by the band which has resulted in a notable debut recording.

TrackList: Lady Bird; Softly As In A Morning Sunrise; Big Swing Face; Boplicity; The Days Of Wine And Roses; Jordu; Lady Bird (alternate take); Softly As In A Morning Sunrise (alternate take); Big Swing Face (alternate take)

—Pierre Giroux

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