Ned Otter's latest Two & Four release Powder Keg
is 2004's first great jazz album. As on his 2002 debut So Little Time
, Otter is sympathetically recorded by legendary producer Rudy Van Gelder alongside a veteran group including the savvy Harold Mabern on piano and, in one of his last sessions, the late, great drummer Billy Higgins. Otter's robust, assured tenor leads a quintet through a set alternating between tender ballads and mid-tempo hard bop numbers.
The album opens with "Tenderly," Otter introducing the melody with a tremendous sense of lyricism. The title track follows, as frenetic as the first is pacific. So it goes through the CD's eight tracks, tempos and moods expertly shuffled. It is a treat to hear Billy Higgins once again, his sense of joy palpable and infectious as ever. Whether propelling the tunes with his unique brand of cymbal play or during his brief solo turn on "Black Sunday", you can all but see him behind the kit wearing his trademark smile. And Mabern is his usually funky self--check out his sly quote of "A-Train" on "I Get Sentimental Over Nothing." If I don't wax as nostalgic over bassist Dennis Irwin or trumpeter Tom Kirkpatrick, please don't think it's because their play isn't solid throughout the album.
Closing with the twelve minute opus "Jeanine," saxophonist Ned Otter's third album is a must for fans of classic bop. Though a relatively recent recording, it sounds as though it could be a vintage Blue Note record. Given the presence of Van Gelder, Mabern & Higgins, what else would you expect.