Aficionados of ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s mainstream jazz who also dig a modern sensibility will enjoy the latest offering from arranger/composer Randy Simon, who has upped the musical ante on his third collection of original material. Incorporating a variety of instrumental settings ranging from piano trio to sextet, the Randy Simon Jazz Project’s Awakening features a group of top players from the Upstate New York scene, including acclaimed pianist Adrian Cohen, guitarist George Muscatello, saxophonist Kevin Barcomb, and trumpet/flugelhorn player Pete Bellino. From straight-ahead romps to Latin-tinged bossa novas and evocative piano ballads, Awakening delivers the goods.
The title cut kicks things off with the full sextet in a mid-tempo bossa nova featuring fine solos from four of the players. Of particular note: Barcomb’s nod to the late Michael Brecker during his turn on tenor, and Bellino’s Woody Shaw-inspired take on flugelhorn.
The aptly titled Cinco-pation brings to mind the Dave Brubeck classic Take Five with its characteristic 5/4 time signature, and features a quintet, with searing solos from Barcomb (tenor), Bellino (trumpet) and Cohen.
The trio selection Spring Forward is a showcase for Cohen, whose tasteful yet fiery chops on this tune bring to mind Lyle Mays’ acoustic recordings in the ‘90s. He meshes seamlessly with long-time cohorts drummer Danny Whelchel and bassist Mike DelPrete on one of the CD’s highlights.
Reach For It returns to a Latin vein with Bellino (flugelhorn), Barcomb (tenor) and Cohen providing plenty of fire with strong improvisational work.
The quartet piece Yellowstone, another interesting foray into 5/4 time augmented with rhythmic embellishments, also stands out with some intriguing counterpoint between Barcomb’s soprano sax and Cohen’s piano, and spirited solos from each.
Empty Nest, a reflective ballad with a melody line that briefly quotes the ‘60s Johnny Mandel classic The Shadow of Your Smile, features stunning harmonic dialogue between Cohen and Muscatello and sensitive accompaniment from Whelchel and DelPrete.
Another highlight featuring some choice horn charts, On a Lark finds the quintet in a “small big band” vibe that recalls some of Herbie Hancock’s vintage mid-‘60s material.
Easily the most up-tempo piece on the album, Cleanup is a tour de force for Muscatello, whose extended exploration echoes Pat Metheny’s passion and tone circa the mid-‘80s. Cohen follows on piano before Barcomb (returning to soprano) and DelPrete “clean up” with fine solos of their own.
Finally, the lovely Woodland wraps up the proceedings in a trio setting that finds Cohen in a thoughtful Bill Evans mode. The empathic rhythm section of Whelchel and DelPrete provide understated support throughout.
Recommended if you like: Bill Evans, Lyle Mays, Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, Woody Shaw, Pat Metheny.
See more reviews of Awakening at http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=33012 and