Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Two seasoned trumpet masters take different tacks in post-bop small-group style

Mark Buselli has a heartwarming new CD
With all the nonstop cross-fertilization in today's jazz, it may be doubtful to find stylistic regionalism on the contemporary scene. But here are two excellent examples of trumpeter-led small groups whose new recordings indicate contrasting aspects of East Coast and Midwestern sensibilities.

From Mark Buselli, director of jazz studies at Ball State University who is well-known for his trumpet, flugelhorn and congas work around town here, comes "Untold Stories" (OA2 Recordings). And from David Weiss, a native New Yorker and veteran of its jazz scene widely respected for his compositions as much as for his trumpet-playing, issues "When Words Fail" (Motema).

David Weiss converts personal loss into musical treasure.
I don't want to make too much of regional differences, but on the strength of these two fine recordings, you can hear from Buselli and his quintet a more relaxed, open-hearted, genial approach to music-making. With Weiss and his sextet, there is an edgier sound, energetic and troubled, more attuned to the shimmer and disruptions of life in the Big Apple.

 There's no denying the abundant pleasures in "Untold Stories," yet "When Words Fail," while also offering much to enjoy, is the more profound recording.  Profundity in jazz can be a mixed blessing, of course; its presence may be welcome or distracting.

Blurring my notion of New York edginess vs. Midwestern geniality, Weiss' recording should be of interest to Hoosier jazz fans from Track 1 on: "The Intrepid Hub" is a Freddie Hubbard tribute and has that hard-charging Freddie freshness, including a good Weiss solo full of warm, glinting phrases. But there is a more specific memorial cast to "When Words Fail," too: Within this band's personnel is an example of the recent personal losses that Weiss has had to process: Bassist Dwayne Burno died shortly after the recording was finished, and the title tune was named in his honor.

It makes for a great memorial, but an even more effective monument, "Loss," is my favorite on this disc. The whole band seems to reach deep into wherever they protect what means most to them, then they bring it out and display it here; the compositional vehicle is commodious and life-affirming, even in the midst of the mood of restrained lamentation.

Weiss seems to be one of those intuitive bandleaders whose compositions deliver expertly for particular personnel.  Alto saxophonist Myron Walden works wonders in "Wayward," a rare example of a showcase for one band member. Generally speaking, everyone is evenly represented: Weiss has the Stricklands — Marcus and E.J. — on tenor sax and drums, respectively. The sometimes cryptic, sometimes effusive Xavier Davis weighs in on piano. Guitarist Ben Eunsen augments the ensemble on a couple of tunes.

Buselli benefits from the compositional knack of Steve Allee, the shrewd, inventive pianist of his band here.  The Indianapolis/Brown County pianist's usual trio mates — bassist Jeremy Allen and drummer Steve Houghton — complete the rhythm section.  Joining Buselli in the front line is saxophonist Danny Walsh, a protean improviser — Adderley-like when he picks up the alto, a little harder to place as a tenorman, but quite adept in any case.

Buselli's pieces are the title track and "Claude," a flugelhorn feature for him in memory of pianist Claude Sifferlen that puts his lyrical gifts in the spotlight. Of Allee's pieces, I particularly enjoyed the faux-exotic "Istanbul," which includes an outstanding Allen solo.

The straightforward charm of the whole disc is notable. This is not cotton-candy music, though it is readily appealing. And while we're on "palate imagery," Buselli continues to exemplify something that plays hide-and-seek with jazz fans all too often:  good taste. The pieces are well-proportioned, the ensemble playing is tight and to the point, the solos never run too long, the rare fadeout (as on Ellington's "Angelica") doesn't seem like an excuse for not knowing how to end a song.

Both discs are treasures all around. In every jazz period and subgenre, from classic New Orleans to now, the trumpet reigns supreme.