It’s hard to imagine a more personal, or personable, modern take on soul-jazz tradition than “Octavia Minor,” the opening track on the sophomore album by tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder’s terrific quintet, Day in Pictures. On one hand, the tune boasts a relaxed hard-bop riff and hand-in-glove exchanges between Bauder and stellar trumpeter Nate Wooley. But it departs convention agreeably with its spacey Middle Eastern tonality and edgy give-and-take between pianist Kris Davis’ bluesy wrinkles and drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s off-center accents.
Much of Nightshades, like its predecessor, Day in Pictures (which featured Angelica Sanchez on piano), greases mainstream tastes while sparingly applying modernistic effects—screech tones and atonal blowing, for sure, but also subtler harmonic and structural touches. As he demonstrates dazzlingly with his unaccompanied opening solo on the ballad “Starr Wykoff,” Bauder is one of the few tenor players of his generation who can sound so deeply, convincingly classic while sounding so of the moment.
Wooley and Davis smartly frame that quality of his playing and offer their own reverberant solos, adding to their ascending reputations. If it’s easy to tag many young musicians to specific influences, it’s tricky with these seasoned players, so seamlessly have they absorbed the sounds of the past. That includes the bassist, Jason Ajemian, who launches the jaunty finale, “Nightshades,” with throbbing, folk-rooted tones that become an irresistible focal point even when running beneath the main action.