What a wonderful surprise this CD is! Bassist Gregg August is a new name to me, and "One Peace" is his second recording as a leader. Here, August leads a formidable cast comprised of established jazzmen (pianist Luis Perdomo, reedman Myron Walden), rising young stars (drummer E. J. Strickland and saxophonist Yosvany Terry), and a couple of fine lesser-known players (saxophonist Stacy Dillard and trumpeter John Bailey) through 10 original compositions.
"One Peace" evokes the best post-Coltrane, post-free jazz of the late 1960s and early 1970's. Back then, artists such as McCoy Tyner, Lee Morgan, Stanley Cowell, Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Norman Connors, Carlos Garnett, and many others had tired of playing standards or free jazz, and didn't want to go the fusion route. So, they began experimenting with extended forms, exotic Eastern harmonies, odd time signatures, and African or Latin-derived rhythms. The music they came up with was daring, distinctive, driving, passionate, and deeply connected to the emerging Black Consciousness movement. The music on "One Peace" draws directly from that era, yet - instead of recreating the music of those glory years, August re-invents it for the adventurous souls of the 21st Century.
A classically-trained bassist who has worked with Ornette Coleman, Ray Barretto, and James Moody, August also has major league compositional chops. 'Hand to Mouth' opens the set with a sinewy, asymmetrical bass line and E. J. Strickland's bustling drums. Stabbing bittersweet-and-sour horns, bass, and piano state the twisting, stop-and-start theme before the bass ostinato returns to pave the way for Strickland's punch'n'roll drums and bright, energetic solos by Walden and Bailey. The tune winds down a little for an excellent solo by the leader.
'Nastissimo' continues in a similar vein - a multi-sectioned head with contrasting rhythms and darkly harmonized horns, urgent drums crashing and tumbling over a standing wave of bass and piano, which opens up into a solo section comprised of alternating slabs of hard-swinging 4/4 and a churning Afro-Latin 5/4. Strickland and pianist Luis Perdomo shine especially brightly here.
Another highlight is the Mingus-like 'Sixth Finger', which starts as an almost comically swaggering blues, and then takes off unexpectedly into triple time as the horns hocket a completely different melody.
'Modal Tune' again conjures up the early 70s with its restless Afro-Latin rhythms, Perdomo on sparkling Rhodes piano, and a melody that sounds like a great lost Woody Shaw tune. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that the rest of "One Peace" is just as interesting and just as strong. Really, there's not a weak track on this CD.
Gregg August's music is the sort of stuff that scratches the itch you don't even know you have. It's definitely not paint-by-number, straight-ahead jazz, not really avant garde, and certainly not fusion - it's not easy music to pigeonhole. "One Peace" offers super-fresh and complex jazz that manages to be soulful, intellectually stimulating, and hard-swinging. Whenever I found myself casting about looking for something to listen to, I kept coming back to this CD. It was either that, or dig through my vinyl for my old Joe Henderson, Billy Harper, and Gary Bartz LPs! A win-win situation, I'd say. Highly recommended.