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Reviews: The Mission, Ninety Miles

David Kunian on new CD releases from the New Orleans jazz world

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Stefon Harris, David Sanchez and Christian Scott
Ninety Miles
(Concord)
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Ninety Miles is a collaboration among rising young trumpeter and native New Orleanian Christian Scott, frequent New Orleans visitor and vibraphonist Stefon Harris, and tenor saxophonist David Sanchez. The trio had not played together before traveling to Cuba in May 2010 to perform and record with Cuban musicians. It was a challenging session, but as Ninety Miles shows, a rewarding one. The songs have consistent energy, and the American and Cuban musicians gelled and sound like a group that had been playing together for years. All the songs feature the shifting polyrhythms that mark Cuban jazz. They have greater density on up-tempo tunes such as "Nengueleru" and "Congo," but even the ballads share the rhythmic undercurrent. The principal soloists are on top of their games here. Harris handles melody and percussion on the vibraphone. He never steps on the piano player, and his playing adds another welcome pulse to the rhythm section. Sanchez is strong throughout, and he wrote two of the best songs: "The Forgotten Ones," a ballad dedicated to New Orleans, and "City Sunrise," which starts off with Harris in a contemplative vein before the rhythm section digs in underneath Sanchez's unique phrasing. Scott shows why he is one of the most highly regarded young players in contemporary jazz. Whether negotiating the tricky rhythms of "Brown Belle Blues" or just straight blowing in "And This Too Shall Pass," Scott has a clear attack and continually offers interesting ideas. His own records are marked by a backbeat groove, and it is different and exciting to hear him in a more Caribbean context. As both a musical and geographic setting, that context brings out a fine album from these three musicians. — David Kunian



Edward Petersen and the Test
The Mission
(Roving Bovine)
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With his heavy teaching schedule at the University of New Orleans, saxophonist Edward Petersen doesn't get out much, and the rest of New Orleans suffers because of it. He is a monster player, as adept at beautiful ballads as all-out burners. He and his band The Test's new record The Mission is full of tough modern jazz that would have been hip in the 1950s and is still hip today. Petersen's slightly acrid, cutting saxophone tone is authoritative and never tentative. He tears up songs such as "Cryptic Interlude" where, like the best players, his solos tell stories. Even when he's playing up and down the saxophone, the notes and phrasing maintain a strong coherence. On "The Delivery," he builds a probing solo with occasional Coltrane-like asides, and the band is with him throughout the tune. Pianist Victor Atkins mixes up stinging backing chords with sweet melodies and a great meditative solo on "Simple." Bassist Tarik Hassan and drummer Paul Thibodeaux hold down the rhythms on both the swinging and less conventional meters, especially on the very pretty cut "The Dreaded Symphony." Thibodeaux pushes Petersen at the beginning of the album with driving snare drum accents and tight cymbal work, and by the end he opens some great solo space. The two have a quick duet near the end of the disc where they venture out as far as they can without losing sight of the tune or ascending into pointless noodling. Petersen composed all the songs, and most are five to six minutes long, so the pacing is crisp and the album doesn't get bogged down. This record and Petersen's playing in particular can stand up to anything coming out of more recognized modern jazz centers. — Kunian

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