Monday, November 25, 2019

Tucker Brothers' 'Two Parts' displays across-the-board input for original jazz

Giants in jazz have received due acknowledgment across the years, but it's worrisome too much evaluation of excellence in the music has focused on star-worship, or at least ceaselessly holding up individual contributions.

That's all well and good, and I'm as much an advocate as anyone for knowing who calls the tunes, signals solos and return to the heads (where applicable), and who the sidemen are and what musical contexts they can successfully adapt to. But there's some danger in aping the pop focus on "icons" and casting in the shadow ensemble virtues that make groups with common, well-honed experience preferable to pick-up bands, no matter what expertise each component brings to the table.
The Tucker Bros. put it all together in "Two Parts."

The band's the thing, in other words. And in the way the Tucker Brothers' quartet coalesces in recordings or on the bandstand, we have a local object lesson, in 21st-century terms, in what makes a particular  collection of musicians sizzle. It's been a core feature of the music since New Orleans evolved something edgy and hip out of dance and parade numbers.

"Two Parts" is the latest CD and vinyl release from the compatible foursome consisting of Nick Tucker, bass; Joel Tucker, guitar; Sean Imboden, saxophone, and Brian Yarde, drums. This group works so well together that it can take four guest musicians (on four different tracks) into the fold without diluting its identity from what it has on offer in the remaining five pieces.

Original music again carries the palm. The compositions appear to be conceived from the ground up to make each player essential. No one fades even momentarily across the nine  pieces. That doesn't mean the listener can never relish when one player stands out for the time being. It's just that you're always reassured that the showcase is part of a larger display that sets and maintains the tone. Accompaniment patterns never seem carelessly chosen just because they "fit."

Joe Zawinul said memorably that Weather Report was a band where everybody solos and nobody solos. Outside that particular jazz-rock fusion vibe, in a less aggressive, more acoustically centered manner, the Tucker Brothers also picks up on that share-and-share-alike aesthetic, though conventional soloing is not discarded. There is a strong melodic cast to the music, and the tunes are rich in "hooks," those memorable gestures that are regarded as so crucial in pop music, whose market demands that it come across immediately. Without stressful exertion, the compositions tend to embrace variety without sounding scattershot.

I particularly enjoyed the relaxed forward momentum given to "October Third," which accommodates some push as it proceeds. Nick Tucker's bass solo has lots to say, not just as a jumping-off point, but as a crucial piece in an attractive puzzle. When the band regathers its forces to conclude, it has built on Nick's eloquent outing.

The title piece is especially effective in coming across as a unified statement, rather than a bipolar entity that the listener must labor to put together. And without getting particular about the value of guests Amanda Gardier, Ellie Pruneau, Walter Smith III, and Elena Escudero, every one of them seems essential to the pieces that feature their artistry.

"Two Parts" marks a scintillating advance for a band already well-woven into the Indianapolis jazz tapestry.

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