The press kit that came with pianist Eric Mintel’s CD "Live" is packed with references and comparisons to his hero, Dave Brubeck. Such an angle can harm as much as it can help. It provides a familiar frame of reference for casual listeners of jazz, but more serious listeners may ask themselves, "why not just listen to the original?" Is Mintel more than a tribute-payer and an imitator? Yes, but . . .
"Live," recorded at the Allentown (PA) Art Museum in February 2001, contains four originals, two standards, and Paul Desmond’s "Take Five." Mintel’s playing contains the most familiar elements of Brubeck’s (dense chords, playing squarely on the beat), but he has his own melodic ideas as well. My first impression of saxophonist Neil Wetzel was not a bit Desmond-y he has much more of a Phil Woods thing happening. Bassist Dave Antonow and drummer Jeremy Berberian provide ample support throughout the live set.
The band’s take on "Beautiful Love," and on many of the tracks of the CD, is listenable but unremarkable. The players play in the idiom adequately, but there is no sense of excitement, no sound of surprise. Not much to inspire repeated listening. The lack of enthusiasm in the audience makes it easy to forget that they are there at all. The recording quality is not up to modern standards. The sound ranges from muted to muddy to cavernous.
"Chant," a Brubeck-ian fugue tune, is an attractive Mintel composition, and it is here that the quartet puts forth some of their best playing. "Boogie Sugar!" displays the four at their most ebullient. "Modal Mood," the closer of the CD, contains some fire from the group.
The packaging and sound quality of the CD suggest that "Live" was a low-budget affair (but how many independent productions have much of a budget?). The CD may make a good souvenir for concert attendees to take home, but it lacks prime-time polish.