A Handful of Stars
It's so easy to get carried away with a debut; tempting to announce that so-and-so has "burst on the scene." Well color me "carried away:" I find it both easy and tempting to report that, as a leader, baritonist Adam Schroeder has dutifully exploded as horn soloist and arranger, having sculpted nine inventive concepts out of eleven piano-less tracks. If that invites comparison with Gerry Mulligan, try this one on for size: while Schroeder seems to have emerged full-blown from Mulligan's stew, along with Gary Smulyan's slightly more modern ideas, the other half of the front line -- guitarist Graham Dechter (the youngster is doing some bursting of his own) -- is an amalgam of Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and, above all, Joe Pass. Considering the rhythm section, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, this album provides well over an hour of intense, intelligent, bop-tinged straightahead jazz.
You want highlights? Try any track. The first, "I Don't Wanna Be Kissed," is a swinging template for all the sounds that follow. Dechter's chordal intro, over Hamilton's brushwork and Clayton's rhythmic doublings, offer a gentle cushion for Schroeder's uplifting pick-up notes. Adam digs the swooping motif: he repeats it often. When the first chorus ends, the key and the mood change; hard swing prevails; so does chamber gentility. "Midwest Mash" reveals economy of means: Hamilton maintains a timbales-like effect on his drums; Clayton creates a near-Latin feel with tricky syncopation, especially under Schroeder's solo, during which the guitarist unveils a "Wes-side" homage; and Clayton contributes a searing solo. Neal Hefti's sensuous "Pensive Miss" conjures up his atmospheric "Li'l Darlin'," and Schroder basks in it, mostly in his sublime tenor range, demonstrating, as does Clayton, how eloquent silences can be. "Jessica's Birthday" must have been quite a bash; Quincy Jones fashioned a bop line for it and Clayton's young son, pianist Gerald, constructed a chart that clearly indicates he's maturing as an arranger. Solo highlights belong to Schroeder and Dechter.
Drop-dead gorgeous is the only way to describe Schroeder's ballad, "Hidden Within." Ditto for his interpretation. The bossa, "Nascimento," offers a three-way conversation among Schroeder, Dechter and Clayton just before the out chorus. Not spontaneous counterpoint; there are three written lines for baritone, guitar and bass, over Hamilton's Brazilian beat. The all-but-forgotten title track turns up in new threads thanks to Schroeder's tailoring. It's now a way-up line woven with witty, shifting accents. The quartet shrinks to a duo for a colorful, minimalist treatment of the Ellington/Strayhorn classic, "Just A Sittin' and A Rockin':" bari and bass schmoozing on the front porch. In the process, Clayton gets to show how impeccable his bowing is. Finally, a sizzling tempo for "It's All Right With Me" as Hamilton gets to show how melodic his drum soloing can be. One final display by Schroeder, but it's in his arranging. During the bridge of the first and last choruses, Adam, Graham and John (playing arco) quietly descend Cole Porter's chromatic diminished chords, sounding like a highly-disciplined, legitimate string trio. It's an inspired will-o'-the-wisp.