Sunday, June 23, 2019

Premium Blend is well-suited to its rising jazz profile

Having caught the first of two sets Premium Blend played Saturday night, I feel compelled to mention the ensemble's virtues as well as its "Vices."

"Vices" is the name of its new recording, available via streaming only. The physical CD, as bandleader Jared Thompson suggested from the Jazz Kitchen bandstand, is so 20th century. (Naturally, I have thousands of them.)

Thompson solicited compliments on his new suit, with the band name fixed inside the jacket. He got them. The music on hand was just as suitable, especially to the musical spiffiness of the quartet: Thompson, saxophone; Ryan Taylor, guitar and repertoire-builder along with the leader; Steven Jones, keyboards, and Brian Yarde, drums.

Premium Blend lived up to its name at the Jazz Kitchen.
As to those virtues, this is a steadily cohesive band, with an original book loaded with catchy tunes, arranged to showcase the group's unity as an ensemble as well as the solo skills of its members. Especially impressive was the avoidance of unaccompanied drum solos in the set I heard; Yarde's solo space featured enlivening punctuation by the band, which afforded plenty of opportunity to appreciate his control and fiery virtuosity. Extended drum solos, tempo shifts all over creation, with everyone just looking on are proven applause-generators, but it's a relief to be free of them now and then.

Rob Dixon, the oft-cited "mayor" of Indianapolis jazz, sat in on alto and soprano saxes for several pieces. Thompson cites him as a mentor, yet it was evident that each man has his own style. In general, the tenor saxophonist was more florid, though always capable of making a point, not scattering the seeds of his inspiration on stony places. Dixon was just as intense, but somewhat less inclined to release flurries of notes. Both men displayed hearty, well-centered tones. Raggedy saxophonics are overrated.

They were solid partners in stating the themes. Doing so when Dixon was not onstage was the responsibility of Thompson and Taylor in unison. Accompaniments for the two-sax front line were almost always well-judged. An exception was Thompson's "Affirmation," when the thickness of background patterns was a bit too much to allow Thompson to stand out. The texture was scaled back somewhat for Dixon's solo — accidental or in tribute to the old master?

I admired Jones' facility and spicy flavors at the keyboards, including an instrument devoted to laying down nimble bass lines.  Taylor in his solos was skittery, facile, drawing the listener in and yet able to vary guitar color outwardly, as he did when intensifying his sound for a moody piece titled "Torment."

The tune didn't come close to stressing the darkness Thompson mentioned afterwards until near the end. However you interpret it, it's a safe bet Premium Blend is not focused on tormenting its audiences, but rather dispensing well-coordinated musical pleasure. Despite the new release's title, this band keeps any vices at a safe distance. As usual, virtue is its own reward.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed chatting with you during this performance. Great review