Some very talented jazz musicians are out there in America's heartland -and not all of them want or need to move to New York or LA. Chicago pianist/composer Surace is one such - if he were based in NY, LA or Paris he'd be known the world 'round. He plays & writes in the mainstream vein, a la Bud Powell, Horace Parlan, Red Garland, Dave Brubeck - but free of any "classic" baggage. That's to say, his music is free of cliches, and Surace & Co. don't sound like they're trying to turn back the clock to some idealized past jazz era. His compositions have infectious melodies and swing with genial assurance - they're never mere frameworks for "blowing." His tunes average around the 5-minute mark - there's no wasted or gratuitous playing.
Everyone makes every note COUNT. Schneider's tenor is a joy: his sound comes out of the neglected tenor masters Hank Mobley and Don Byas. The band plays as a unit, a band - this isn't just a thrown-together session. "Nearly Blue" is mainstream jazz of the highest order, proof-positive that jazz doesn't necessarily have to be "out" to be creative. Five and 1/2 stars, and well-worth seeking out.