Thursday, July 30, 2020

John Fedchock NY Sextet lays down good blend of solo and collective excellence

Desirable outcomes in studio recording sessions usually mean that the material is known well in advance to the parti
Trombonist-bandleader John Fedchock
John Fedchock leads a unified sextet
cipants and the bandleader structures it in such a way that solos, accompaniment, and ensemble passages seem soldered into place.

I like when, from moment to moment, everyone seems to be focused on presenting a musical object more than foregrounding "expression."  That's the impression I pick up from "Into the Shadows" (Summit Records), the latest recording by the John Fedchock NY Sextet.  And that doesn't have to mean the jazz that results seems cut-and-dried —  a simple triumph of planning.

Trombonist-bandleader Fedchock has created arrangements for himself and five colleagues that maintain pulse and momentum while giving us something as solid and functionally appropriate as a well-made chair.

To take from the album the clearest link to the tradition of great jazz sextets, "Alpha Dog" is an easily rocking update of the hard-bop tradition. It's deliberately abstract, I think, to avoid seeming less like an Art Blakey Jazz Messengers tribute.  Typically, concise solos run throughout the performance, covering everyone but the drummer, Eric Halvorson. The other players are Scott Wendholt, trumpet and flugelhorn; Walt Weiskopf, tenor saxophone; Allen Farnham, piano; and David Finck, bass.

The band presents an assertive profile in such a number, but it can also render a soft-focus sound that coheres, as in the flowing samba "Manaus."  That piece features one of several outstanding Wendholt solos. Others that caught my ear on repeated listening happen on the standards "I Should Care" and "Nature Boy."  The latter arrangement catches the mystery of the original song without having to slow down to a ballad pace; in fact, the phrases are punched up without presenting the song in gaudy new garb.

Also fetching was Fedchock's uptempo arrangement of "I Should Care," with Farnham introducing the tune in an engagingly cryptic fashion. Fedchock ends that piece with a coda, featuring the drummer. Halvorson also gets a fusillade of last words in "Star Eyes" against a five-chord riff in the piano. That tune had the Fedchock solo that struck me most favorably, as once again everyone has his say in a round-robin solo format. But there's no showboating here: It's an unspoken "Hey, everyone, we've got a good chair to make: every detail has to fit and display complementary workmanship."

The title tune, one of five Fedchock originals, is pretty much a trombone showcase, yet even with that emphasis, the arrangement is all about the the sextet. The ensemble stays close to the theme in its accompaniment, as if to underline the import of the trombone. Here is leadership of a kind we might wish for in other arenas: The  man in charge accepts responsibility, carries it off well, and allows those working with him due opportunity to shine. Fedchock ventures into the shadows, to be sure, but emerges from them shining.

[Photo by Enid Farber]

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