Spirits Live at The Jazz Estate-- Jamie Breiwick

Milwaukee is not considered a Mecca of jazz, but like many other smaller U.S. cities outside of the New York-Chicago-Los Angeles axis it is home to talented jazz musicians and educators who also help promote their jazz scenes. A prime example is trumpeter Jamie Breiwick, who leads several local groups, teaches at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and the University of Wisconsin, and co-founded Milwaukee Jazz Vision (milwaukeejazzvision.org). Recorded live at The Jazz Estate in Milwaukee, Breiwick's third CD features his quartet with tenor saxophonist Tony Barba, bassist Tim Ipsen, and drummer Andrew Green. They display both versatility and vitality in playing tunes by Wayne Shorter, Duke Ellington, Taylor Swift, and Death Cab for Cuties' Ben Gibbard, plus their own originals and a composition from a former Breiwick student. This may be a "local" combo, but its artistry is world-class.

The opening "Gig Shirt" finds Green and composer Ipsen creating an insistently tense rhythmic pulse before Breiwick and Barba engage on the jabbing theme both in unison and separately. Barba's tenor utilizes mostly short, beseeching phrases at first in his compelling solo, gradually becoming more expansive in his swirling lines. Breiwick begins pensively and softly, dwelling on a thematic motif while slowly increasing his attack with slurs, blats, and other effects. Green's tenacious, rumbling statement precedes the reprise. Ipsen and Green again tastefully set the scene for the harmonious trumpet-tenor exposition of the gospel-tinged theme of Gibbard's "I Will Follow You Into the Dark." Barba's biting tone and earnest mindset result in a moving extended solo. Breiwick's muted trumpet is not as edgy, but is rather both sweet and tart in his insinuating improv. Ipsen's lyrical turn speaks volumes, and Breiwick and Barba's return with the melody only reinforces its luster.

Breiwick and Barba gracefully and ingratiatingly portray the theme of Taylor Swift's "Safe and Sound," aided by Green's uplifting drum work. Barba takes apart the melody in his solo with a variety of tonal alterations and sweeping, lucid ideas, as Ipsen's strong bass lines come more into play. Breiwick's flight spurts and flows, with particularly effective circular permutations. By the reprise, the quartet has made a convincing case for this pop tune as an attractive jazz vehicle. The title "Little Bill" refers to both Breiwick's late grandfather Bill and to the Bill Cosby cartoon, a favorite of the leader's kids. The line is lighthearted and playful, with Ipsen and Green's rhythms keeping it funky. Breiwick's solo percolates soulfully, and its construction is both sound and artful. Barba elucidates with bluesy assertions and a ceaseless momentum that captures and holds. Ipsen's spot is just as impactful as the others, and the productive trumpet-tenor dialogue post-recap is the appealing clincher.

The front line launches Shorter's concise yet harmonically challenging "Capricorn" prior to Barba's convoluted exploration, which intrigues and provokes. Ipsen's persistent bass lines and Green's fluctuating exclamations drive him along, as well as Breiwick, who follows with a veiled intonation and varied propulsion that are each reminiscent of Don Cherry. The bassist's solo, the third of length in this 10:48 treatment, contains a drive, determination, and resonance all comparable to those of Dave Holland. "Walk Through Daydreams, Sleep Through Nightmares" is by young trumpeter Philip Dizack. A shade of dissonance creeps into the trumpet-tenor initiation of the dramatically forceful theme, accented by Green's firm mallets, only to be succeeded by a diminuendo, reflective segment as Breiwick and Barba muse contrapuntally. The mood then shifts to one of expressive outcries until the relatively more soothing long tones of the reprise conclude this riveting track.

Barba's "Spirits" is introduced by Ipsen, and then Breiwick and Barba play the fetching four-note interval that encompasses the melody. Its composer next develops mellow variations while the trumpeter sustains the motif. The overall effect is transfixing. Ellington's "Sunset and the Mockingbird" (from The Queen's Suite) is given a regal interpretation. Breiwick's mournful muted trumpet and Barba's husky articulation combine attractively. The tenor's solo is soulfully zealous and storytelling, while Breiwick wails with a subdued power. Ipsen again retains interest with his inviting bass sound and clear-cut message.

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Scott Albin