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The Mennonite by Nate Birkey Quintet

"The Mennonite" is one of two CD's released last year by southern California-based trumpeter Nate Birkey. While not well known nationally, Birkey and his Quintet have been a staple in the southern California jazz scene for the last five years, achieving for him the honorary status of Santa Barbara's "jazzman laureate." Other bandsmen, all California veterans, include saxophonist Justin Claveria, pianist Jamieson Trotter, bassist Jim Connolly, and drummer Cougar Estrada. The group functions as a modern unit, with Birkey's trumpet playing steering them into standard territory with his Miles and Chet Baker-influenced approach.

The CD kicks off with "The Fool In The Tree", an original blues based on a groovy piano vamp figure and a simple trumpet riff melody. The understated simplicity of the tune's melody line previews Birkey's low-key but serious approach to soloing. It also exemplifies Birkey's composition style, which is based heavily around counterpoint rhythmic figures in the rhythm section and the melody line. "Delirio" alternates between a minor counterpoint section and a funky Latin bridge, before settling into a salsa groove.

Birkey follows with two original ballads, "Penelope" and "Before She Goes Away"; the former providing a reflection of muted Miles, while the latter includes a strong Chet Baker influence. Back in classic Miles mode, the band burns through Wallace Roney's uptempo "Northern Lights". Pianist Jamieson Trotter contributes two compositions, the mysterious "Hollow" and the straight-ahead hard bop "Prohibitation". The set winds down with Birkey's funky, 70's-inspired composition "The Mennonite", the title track of the CD and a tune which Birkey conceived around the slow, methodical ways of the Mennonite Brethren that he grew up around. The CD concludes with Birkey airily crooning a single-chorus rendition of the Irving Berlin standard "What'll I Do", accompanied by his own piano.

Tight, focused playing by the band and a set of solid compositions by the leader make this an enjoyable set. Birkey's CD's, including his other vocally-oriented release "Ballads", are available by visiting his website.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Nate Birkey Quintet
  • CD Title: The Mennonite
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Household Ink
  • Tracks: The Fool in the Tree, Delirio, Penelope, Before She Goes Away, Northern Lights, Hollow, Song Without Words, Prohibitation, The Mennonite, Whatll I Do'
  • Musicians: Nate Birkey, trumpet, vocal; Justin Claviera, tenor; Jamieson Trotter, piano; Jim Connolly, bass; Cougar Estrada, drums; Joe Woodward, guitar (track 9 only)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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