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May 2008

Kelly Brand Nextet
The Door
Origin Records

The Nextet (nice neologism) is first an outlet for the compositions and arrangements of Kelly Brand, and second a showcase for some of Chicago’s best straightahead jazz players: tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield, trumpeter Art Davis, bassist Kelly Sill (Brand’s husband) and drummer Jon Deitemyer. Brand writes polished melodies and subtle harmonies and clever charts that reflect her upbeat attitude toward life. This positive energy gives The Door an unusually unified point of view and also makes it an excellent album with which to introduce jazz neophytes to the art form.

There is no extremity or license here. Solos are tight and concise, like Bradfield’s chorus of forthright assertions on Wayne Shorter’s “Night Dreamer” (the only cover), or Davis’ tart, Lee Morgan-esque staccatos infiltrating the funk of “Number Nine,” or any of Sills’ fleet, clear bass solos. Brand gives herself the most space, but her piano always sounds like an inner voice of the song at hand. Unexpectedly, the tracks least useful as an introduction to jazz are the vocals. Brand writes literate, unclichéd lyrics to some of her songs, but Mari Anne Jayme is a cautious, bland singer, and (in this otherwise well-recorded album) she is buried too deep in the mix.

Originally published in May 2008
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