It took Todd Coolman over a year to complete this project, and an unusual project it is. Through his ArtistShare web site, he solicited compositions from the public, all comers welcome, regardless of experience. He has now chosen the best submissions and recorded them with a terrific quintet of first-call New Yorker's. Based on the result, it was a good idea. These originals weren't written just so there was something new for a session. By putting his fate in the hands of outsiders, Coolman has confronted his band with new, potentially more challenging material, given himself a choice of tunes honed by competition, and provided largely unknown composers a shot at being recorded. Bravo!
The seven winners feature an entertaining mix of styles. The first tune, "Crescent City Ditty," is the most traditional, a funky vehicle that could have been recorded by Horace Silver or the Adderley brothers 50-years ago. Eric Alexander and Brian Lynch shine. They've been recording torrents of music lately, and I'm all for it. They are two of the most lyrical players in contemporary jazz, tending to stay closer to a song's original harmonic line than edgier musicians such as Brandon Marsalis or Dave Douglas.
"Full Circle" turns things cool and mellow. It's a perfect vehicle for Lynch's warm trumpet sound. Jim McNeely stays in the same romantic groove. It's a beautiful tune. Coolman and Riley, on this and all other tracks, provide just the right rhythmic touch.
You'd never guess a 17-year old, Dana Malseptic, composed "Connotation." It has a hard-bop feel and perhaps the most difficult changes of the material here. No problem for this group. "Can You Imagine" features a similar style. Then the pace slows again with "C Minor Waltz." Its combination of a lightly swinging motion and distinctly minor-key atmosphere is unusual sweet and sour like some good Szechuan dishes.
"Caribbean Sunset" provides a mildly-Latin interlude with a breezy, loping feel. Then "Pastorale" wraps things up with an arrangement that is a little fuller than the others, giving an opportunity for some tasty trumpet-tenor harmonies.
No disappointments here, just an exceptional set of originals played by absolutely top-notch musicians. What are you waiting for?