Any concert goer lucky enough to have seen the antics of the crazed Euro Big Band, the Vienna Art Orchestra, couldn't miss tenor man and featured soloist Andy Scherrer. Scherrer mixes his studied grasp of all things saxophone with a taste for early sixties Coltrane and a love of the late swing-early bop phrasing of masters like Wardell Gray. His voice was a perfect foil for Mathias Ruegg's steam engine charts. Incredibly, after ten years with the VAO this is his first recording as a leader.
Though the recording may lack the humor of Ruegg's glorious band, it captures the vitality and variety of Scherrer's strong tenor and shows off the tight interplay of a fine quartet largely unknown to stateside fans. From William Evans bright opening on Scherrer's mid-tempo "Tuberiferous" - a daring choice for an opener - the disc has the character of one of the late-fifties, early-sixties Blue Note gems. Like Dexter Gordon's string of great BN albums, Second Step showcases warm, spacious recording specs with the loose confidence of players who know how to support each other while stoking a low flame. Frequent listenings only bring more riches.
The originals - two by Scherrer, two by bassist Eckinger - are uniformly excellent with a highlight being the saxophonist's title track, a post-bop number fitting of Gordon. There's a bittersweet "Stardust" with a 1:30 solo opening by the leader. Stephan Kurmann's wonderful "Songman" is taken at a bouncing, near samba rhythm and features a rhapsodic piano solo by the Detroit-born Evans, certainly a talent deserving wider recognition. Throughout Second Step, he comps with strong clusters and imaginative block chords that provide sure yet adventurous footing for the leader's bouncing solos. Eckinger is wisely inconspicuous, setting a strong pace and letting Pallemaerts play Elvin Jones' engine to Scherrer's Trane.
Final word: Kudos to TCB for documenting some of the best of Europe's pool of jazz talent and blurring the lines of the imaginary gap between the two shores. Allegro Distribution likewise deserves credit for bringing the goods to this side of the Atlantic.