The debut release from the Justin Binek Quartet is a "documentation" of sorts. For this recording, the ensemble chose to record everything "real-time," with all four players in the same room in the studio. The result is a studio album with the urgency and energy of a live performance. From the blues-infused, hard-swinging solos featured on "There Is No Greater Love" to the quiet intensity of "You Don't Know This Man," "Songbook" features a wildly creative jazz quartet functioning in what is, essentially, a performance setting.
Formed in the summer of 2010, the Justin Binek Quartet pairs American jazz singer (and internationally renowned jazz educator) Justin Binek with three of the finest players in the surprising jazz hotbed of Belgium: pianist Ewout Pierreux, bassist Jos Machtel, and drummer Toni Vitacolonna. This quartet defies convention: rather than adhering to the "European jazz stereotype," the trio of Pierreux, Machtel, and Vitacolonna swings like mad and plays with bluesy abandon. Paired with the instrumentally-inspired Binek, the result is a combo that mixes 1950s and 1960s Hard Bop sensibilities with surprising contemporary influences.
"Songbook" is full of surprises. The jazz standards "There Is No Greater Love, " "I'll Remember April," "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning," and "Beloved (Daahoud)" all feature new arrangements, courtesy of vocalist Binek. The Pierreux original "Big Do" showcases the quartet in a contemporary bebop setting, while the Binek original "Simply Enamored" features a melody, lyric, and performance in more of a classic Great American Songbook approach. The biggest surprises,though, occur in the three "non-jazz" selections. Gabriel Fauré's gorgeous art song "Au bord de l'eau" is given a contemporary jazz waltz treatment, with some Afro-Cuban influence added in for good measure. Van Morrison's "Moondance" features a new vocalese lyric (written by Binek) on Bobby McFerrin's famous scat solo from his 1982 recording of the same tune. And Jason Robert Brown's beautiful "You Don't Know This Man" (from the musical "Parade") is reinterpreted as a stunning jazz ballad.
Ultimately, "Songbook" features an an exciting and innovative quartet performing jazz in a way that few others do - but with the ensemble's roots firmly planted in the jazz tradition.