Since leaving his native New Zealand for studies at Berkelee, bassist Matt Penman, now based in New York, has busied himself becoming established as one of the go-to sidemen among the young guns of the NYC jazz underground and on international festival stages. Although he's recorded widely, and is part of the house crew for the Fresh Sound/New Talent label, this is is first release as a leader. Drawing on the talents of a quintet largely drawn from FS/NT artist he's previously recorded with, he's written a batch of material that's as impressive as the players he assembled for the project.
Best known among those players is guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, who keeps busy on FS/NT projects between his Verve releases. Chris Cheek featured Penman on his latest release, and returns the favor with outstanding performances on tenor and soprano sax. Aaron Golberg performs on both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes, and the lineup is completed by drummer Jeff Ballard. It's an all star team of young musicians, names destined to show up in the upper reaches of jazz polls for years to come, who deliver in a manner that should reassure anyone who worries about the future of jazz.
As a composer, Penman avoids the temptation to write material that makes his bass a central focus, preferring to subordinate himself to the rhythm role of which he is a master. Actually, that may overstate the case, because while his contribution is largely supportive, it's also indispensable. Still, he lets the primary focus fall on Cheek, Rosenwinkel and Goldberg, and none of them disappoint. All three have ample command of the improvisational potential of their respective instruments, and Penman has provided excellent compositional frameworks for the display of their talents.
This is an terrific contemporary outing, respecting the jazz tradition while pointing toward the jazz future.