Friday, February 19, 2021

Denver's tight, puckish Jazz WORMS turn again, 'Squirmin'' into the 21st century

A band with a regional reputation strains to stay together if it includes players good enough to attract the attention of musicians elsewhere. And the local stars often get anxious to apply their skills to new contexts. In the fluid world of jazz, compatibility can't ensure group longevity.

This Denver quintet regrouped decades after its heyday.
This seems to be the case with the Jazz WORMS, whose unusual name also justifies puffing up into an acronym. The members are Andy Weyl, Keith Oxman, Paul Romaine, Ron Miles and Mark Simon (the surname initials in this order yield the band's creepy-crawly moniker). Active in Denver in the 1980s, the  five players have regrouped to play a batch of eight originals, just released on Capri Records under the title "Squirmin'."

Their musical profile is immediately evident in the pieces' tight organization, which fortunately doesn't go so far as to inhibit the spontaneity and fun that pervade the arrangements. The first track is "Launching Pad," sporting a frisky melody from which the band launches and relaunches, with a few flourishes tucked in as cornetist Miles and tenor saxophonist Oxman lead the attack. The rhythm section (pianist Weyl, bassist Simon, and drummer Romaine) is clearly about collaboration as well as support.

A tune titled "Lickety-Split" doesn't mean the quintet charges off madly in all directions. Rather, it's a spiffily coordinated ensemble that opens up the way for definitive bass and piano solos. (Oxman's in this cut has touches of etude-like note-spinning, but I liked his freewheeling solo turn in "Launching Pad.")

Miles' cornet sounds comfortable on a mellow plateau in the aptly titled "Balladesque," and the flexibility of the band is evident in some cornet-drums and bass-drums exchanges in "The Chimento Files." This blues with a novel melody has a deft momentum, but there is no feverish pressing forward. "Wheaty Bowl," a tribute to a pet bird, features amusing quotes from Charlie ("Bird") Parker in the course of its stop-start theme.

The alertness with which such tricky melodies are dispatched, as in "What If All?," reminded me of a short-lived group called the Jazztet, which 60 years ago included precise ensemble playing in pieces like "Mox Nix" and "Bean Bag." (That band, led by Art Farmer and Benny Golson, also featured a trombone voice, but the analogy holds to some degree. In the recordings I have, both the Jazztet and the Denver quintet display a unity of attack and a harmonic focus that dependably set up concise solo displays well.)

The Jazz WORMS here indicate that a revival project among musicians with strong personal and professional roots can make a fresh showing, almost like a gathering of youngsters eager to make its mark and exhibit its internal rapport. May the WORMS continue to squirm!

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