Best known as a featured player in the neo-swing outfit Royal Crown Revue, trumpeter Scott Steen displays solid jazz chops in a variety of styles on his first release as a leader. Steen composed five of the six tracks, and turned to a different chapter of the jazz lexicon for each of them. The title track opens, and it's a solid example of contemporary hard bop, with his RCR bandmate Louis Taylor sharing the front line on tenor.
That gives way to the bluesy "Slow Cooked," with Mado Dorame assuming the saxophone duties. The highlight on this one, though, is an extended musical conversation between Red Young on the B-3 and Willie McNeill on congas. The mood takes a softer turn for "Looking Back," a slow ballad that finds pianist Ken Charlson's introduction giving way to an excellent display of Steens tone and control.
"One For Red" is another feature for the B-3, and sounds like it came straight from the classic soul jazz clubs of Philly. The last Steen composition is "So Low I'm High," and he stirred up the inspiration for this one from the bottom of the gumbo pot. You wouldn't be surprised to hear it played by a New Orleans funeral band, and you wouldn't expect it to sound any better. Another RCR saxophonist, Jim Jedeikin, is on alto.
The album closes with J. Aebersold's tribute to Thelonious Monk, aptly titled "Monkish." Steen's own muted contribution, though, seems to draw as much inspiration from early Miles, and the performance is at a level that makes it very much a tribute to Mr. Davis as well.
The whole neo-swing scene has drawn some knocks, many well deserved, for being more about fashion than music, with players of varying abilities jumping on and falling off the bandwagon. Royal Crown Revue, though, were among the lead ponies in that parade, and they're still on the track. This offering from Steen, and the contributions from his bandmates (drummer Daniel Glass, who appears throughout the album, is also from RCR), reveal the solid talents that have made their primary gig among the best in their class. Just the same, I hope Scott Steen is able to make more time for outings like this one, because there's never enough straight ahead jazz of this quality.