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October 2002

Sharp Nine Class of 2001
On the Loose
Sharp Nine

Despite the generally conservative stylistic framework of the compositions and playing throughout On the Loose, the disc proves more than just a decent presentation from a talented group of professionals. Rather it's an indication that despite the general gloom and doom one encounters almost daily from some observers regarding the contemporary jazz scene, fresh voices are in fact emerging.

The Sharp Nine Class of 2001 sextet includes two topflight players in the Strickland brothers-saxophonist Marcus and drummer E.J.-and four other good soloists and accompanists who might eventually evolve into exemplary players. In addition, the eight selections are uniformly entertaining and energetically played, with no song bogging down into routine blowing. Also, this is a truly co-operative unit rather than a bandleader's showcase. Solos are nicely distributed, and the ensemble sound is polished and cohesive.

Saxophonist Strickland has a bright, fiery tone on soprano and a bluesy, full approach on tenor. His lush opening solo on "Dedicated to Dad" is a standout, while his exchanges with alto saxophonist Julius Tolentino during the choruses and bridge on "I Want More" seems to spur more animated responses from the rhythm section and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.

E. J. Strickland also makes outstanding contributions on drums, whether it's playing underneath the horns, contrasting and embellishing bassist Brandon Owens' solos or filling in the spaces while pianist Jeb Patton takes breezy, harmonically dense leads. Pelt's crackling, nicely articulated upper-register lines are often reminiscent of Freddie Hubbard (one of his influences) in his prime.

No one in this group is older than 25, and On the Loose offers plenty of hope that there are still highly capable, skilled improvisers developing out there.

Originally published in October 2002
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