Kind of Blue
Standards are the lingua franca of jazz, a shared lexicon that puts musicians—and their audiences—on common ground. But they also present a challenge that, while frequently attempted, is not always met: how to place a unique stamp on a tune everybody knows without sacrificing its beauty or timelessness. Standards thus represent a chance to bring craftsmanship to the foreground or, in the best cases, to break through the rigid boundaries of expectation and display true artistry.
The all-star Nuttree Quartet rises to the occasion admirably, warping Tin Pan Alley and modern jazz classics with casual ease, balancing winking subversion with heartfelt affection for the material. Drummer Adam Nussbaum assembled the group and provides its spark, enthusiastically tossing rhythms about and giving every number a joyous propulsion. Jerry Bergonzi displays introspective tension and bluesy release on tenor sax, while guitarist John Abercrombie adds a laid-back but elusive, free-floating quality that creates a kind of levitation. The wild card here is Gary Versace, who keeps things off balance with Hammond B3 organ lines that are playful, ominous and offbeat.
Taken together, the results surprise and delight. Duke Ellington’s gospel-based “Come Sunday” becomes a gentle road song, Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” a snazzy romp. “All or Nothing at All” picks up a detached, almost steely mien, while a brilliantly moving “Naima” evokes autumn breezes rustling through fallen leaves. It’s a fine ride that encourages repeated listening.