|The Tucker Brothers at the Chatterbox.|
The emphasis in "Writing Prompts," the brothers' new CD, is the push toward mastery the brothers received from such figures in Indianapolis jazz history as David Baker, Wes Montgomery, and Freddie Hubbard. The first-named, the longtime director of jazz studies at Indiana University, was particularly influential in directing and shaping firsthand these young musicians' skills.
"Blues for D.B.," in the middle of the program on "Writing Prompts," salutes both Baker's roots and his coming-of-age trombone skills in bebop, which influenced his jazz composition and performance (on cello) to the end of his life in 2016. In this piece, the blues framework is fast-paced and invitingly oblique. Joel Tucker's guitar particularly nails the tribute. And after Sean Imboden's tenor-sax statement, bassist Nick Tucker contributes an authentically blues-based yet rangy solo.
The band gives attention to melodic virtue, whether the melody fully deserves it or not. On the plus side is the opening number, with sax and guitar playing in unison on "West on Henderson," charging ahead on the strength of drummer Ben Lumsdaine's introduction. The vibe is alert, but casual -- which is kind of a key to the band. Solos are well-integrated: In "West on Henderson," check out the smoothness with which Joel's melodic solo continues sparingly underneath as pianist Evan Main moves to the forefront.
Sean Imboden's tenor sax is unusually full-throated and declamatory on "Standing Rock," which feels like a hastily sketched portrait but is also complete as it stands: Why put arms on the Venus de Milo? The tune takes a pointillistic approach to its wide intervals, but the connections between pitches are put into place with the firmness of mosaic tiles. Imboden's usual tone, linked to a fertile mind, is otherwise somewhat on the reserved side; it's perfectly suited to "Bye Lula," a glum ballad.
Even the band's less successful pieces are drawn into focus at some point. "Writing Prompt 2 (Pensive Moments)" moves right along but becomes kind of drifty. The track is rescued, to my ears, by a keenly focused bass solo, rhythmically interesting and melodically coherent. In Lester Young's terms, it tells a story — and by the time it occurs, we really need to hear one.
This band can at its best encompass a range of feeling within one piece without sounding haphazard or directionless. The way that "Writing Prompt 1 'Amity,'" the final track, heats up as it goes along is exemplary, against which Main's reflective piano solo suggests another path without laying down contradictions.
"Writing Prompts" continues to document the progress of a cohesive band that enjoys a lively fund of imaginative resources to draw upon in both composition and performance.