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November by Jeremy Pelt

After releasing his reflective Close to My Heart, a musical reminiscence of the records he heard his mother play at home, Jeremy Pelt determined to record solely original music thereafter. And that he has. Working with top-shelf jazz musicians since his graduation from Berklee in 1998, Pelt, at the age of 32, has determined to explore various compositional avenues as well as continue, through his performances, to prove himself an imaginative trumpeter. In a JazzTimes "Before and After" article, Pelt raved not so much for the sometimes experimental work of Cuong Vu or Wallace Roney, but instead for Clark Terry’s eight-bar "most perfect solo" on "In a Mist." Indeed, Pelt describes keen appreciation for the nuances of other trumpeters’ work, such as Booker Little’s "half-diminished chords" and the fact that Little "embraced dissonances." Pelt has absorbed all of these influences by transcribing Little as a student, for example and he has come up with his own sound. Like many of the trumpeters he admires, Pelt concentrates on tone and melodic development throughout the course of a performance. So even while he can establish a comforting glow on a ballad like "It’s a Beautiful Evening" from Close to My Heart, he can remain relaxed and confident, still identifiable, in the midst of an electrified Miles-influenced tune like "Scorpio" on Shock Value: Live at Smoke. Pelt chooses acoustic accompaniment and plays without effects on November, thereby recalling those earlier trumpet masters. In addition, he chose wisely by including tenor saxophonist JD Allen as the other horn player, for they both share a feeling for the music, not to mention effortless technique bringing to life Pelt’s new compositions.

Pelt offers a varied selection of tunes, and his influence by Wayne Shorter is evident in the opening track, "Mata," dedicated to Pelt’s grandmother, Marion Smith. Ms. Smith must be a strong influence indeed, for "Mata" consists of a tempo-less, weighty fanfare of a refusing-to-be-resolved theme, portending much to come and presenting the members of Pelt’s group in favorable circumstances. While Pelt continues his pursuit of sonic command, Allen is impressive in the urgency of his replies to Pelt’s assertions, no doubt. Allen is filling in the pauses with spur-of-the-moment responses over the ominousness of Gerald Cleaver’s drumming, assisted by Jeff Haynes’ effectively dramatic use of percussion. The introductory flavor of "Mata" suggests the connectedness of all of the nine pieces within November, as if their sequence and themes are not accidental or random. "Avatar" follows "Mata," equally deliberate and weighty in its delivery, though pianist Danny Grissett sets up a governing vamp at the beginning. Still, Pelt shapes his own tune with flair and effective dynamics, pondering its possibilities with halts and tripleted accents that interrupt the strictness of its tempo. Again, Allen delivers, as eloquent as Pelt in fashioning melodic lyricism from the suggestions of its vamp and harmonic structure.

The quintet eases away from the seriousness of the first two tracks’ portentousness to relax in the lilting groove of "Clairvoyant," allowing all of the members to stretch out, though still within the boundaries of Pelt’s composition, as Grissett joins the sections of the piece with his bass-clef rumble. As comforting as the piece may seem, it still remains harmonically unpredictable, not to mention being subject to unexpected accents that retain listeners’ interest instead of lulling them. "Dreamcatcher" is certainly catchy with its tension of four against three animated once again by Grissett’s rolling left-hand theme before Pelt ignites the fire from that fuel. And so "Dreamcatcher" rises continuously, the vortex accelerating, through successive choruses as it builds layer upon layer of excitement. The minor-key "Phoenix" is a workout of multiple tradeoffs of choruses between Pelt and Allen over the quickly stated sixteen-bar theme, recalling some of the work of Miles Davis’s legendary second quintet. The strength of bassist Dwayne Burno’s work, recognized among numerous groups in New York, comes to the forefront as he and Cleaver firmly ground the improvisations.

Then the music slows into a burnished glow when Pelt evokes the image of his then-fiancée, Jeanette, with a medium-tempo song that no doubt was intended to be descriptive of her personality, instead of just creating a melody that could have applied to numerous other people. Similar in spirit to "Rosalie," "Nephthys" reassures and allows the listener to sit back and let Pelt’s playing wash over as its three-four sway allows for the melodic improvisations that he and Allen craft architecturally, gradually filling in the initial outlines with detail and complexity. November ends with "466-64 (Freedom Fighters)," a respectful tribute to Nelson Mandela that reportedly came into being after Pelt visited Mandela’s prison cell. Serious though the subject matter may be, Pelt performs it with grace and his accustomed ability to draw in the listener as he and Allen engage in musical colloquy and perform with a stirring spirit similar to that which they honor.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jeremy Pelt
  • CD Title: November
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: MaxJazz
  • Tracks: Mata, Avatar, Clairvoyant, Dreamcatcher, Phoenix, Rosalie, Monte Cristo, Nephthys, 466-64 (Freedom Fighters)
  • Musicians: Jeremy Pelt (trumpet, flugelhorn), JD Allen (tenor sax), Danny Grissett (piano), Dwayne Burno (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums), Jeff Haines (percussion)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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