Of One's Own-- Jeff Holmes Quartet

This is surprisingly the first small group release from Jeff Holmes, a very talented pianist, trumpeter, composer, arranger, and educator. Holmes' performing credits include Billy Taylor, the Paul Winter Consort, the New York Latin All-Stars, the New England Jazz Ensemble, Vince Giordano's Nighthawks, and his own Big Band, and he has written for such artists as John Abercrombie, Ernie Watts, Max Roach, Sheila Jordan, and Yusef Lateef. He is currently professor of Music and Director of Jazz and African-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and received the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts Association of Jazz Educators. Holmes' compositions on this recording are outstanding, as are their performances (and four others) by his well-chosen quartet. Listeners are in for a treat, as the music washes over you and sweeps you away with its vibrant artistry. The leader is heard on just piano for this CD, and is joined by Adam Kolker, who played with Ray Baretto's New World Spirit, on tenor, soprano, and bass clarinet, James Cammack, with Ahmad Jamal for over 30 years, on bass, and Steve Johns, Billy Taylor's preferred choice, on drums.

Holmes' off-kilter staccato intro to his "Macaroons," sort of fanciful Latin-flavored bebop, turns in the end to classical territory. Kolker's tenor then plays the circular theme that instantly brings to mind Dewey Redman back in the day with Keith Jarrett. Holmes' comping, Johns' prodding drum work, and Cammack's bottomless tones heartily support Kolker's ecstatically building solo. Holmes' own improv, although regrettably short, is a two-handed dancing delight. Holmes and Kolker on soprano reveal the luminescent melodic line of John Abercrombie's "Labour Day," with each offering solos that display grace, fire, and technical command. Holmes' backing of, and interplay with Kolker are well-realized, and Cammack and Johns are firmly set on their cohorts' wave lengths throughout.

Nat Simon's "Poinciana" is taken at a deliberate tempo, with Kolker's throaty bass clarinet, Cammack's electric bass, and Holmes' sparse fills creating a pensive atmosphere. Holmes' solo is eloquent and unabashedly lyrical. Kolker gives the familiar theme the elegance it deserves in his opening and closing readings. Holmes' lovely ballad "The Senses Delight," dedicated to his wife, is enhanced by Kolker's melodic exposition on tenor, with Holmes' richly detailed accompaniment. Holmes and Kolker's yearning, deeply felt solos are bolstered by Cammack's resounding lines and Johns' delicately executed colorations.

"One for C.J.," written for bassist Chip Jackson, is a diverting extended-line Latin theme, which is agilely handled by Kolker's bass clarinet over Johns and Cammack's compelling rhythmic base. Kolker and Holmes play frolicsome, undulating solos, and Cammack seems to sum up all that has gone before in his relentlessly flowing exploration, only to have Johns' succinct turn bare still more fruit prior to the exuberant reprise. Jeff's brother Toby's "Waltz # 3" has an endearing melody that Kolker articulates on tenor with the pianist in rapt accord. Both the stimulating piano and tenor statements are sturdily cushioned by the expert teamwork of Cammack and Johns, and the bassist also contributes another ardent commentary prior to Kolker's reprise and authoritative out chorus.

The quartet's interplay in developing Holmes' warmhearted "Of One's Own" is gratifying, and Kolker's spirited soprano is the focal point, especially his riveting, sinuous solo. Holmes' own spot is understated in comparison, but melodically tantalizing. The intricate unison soprano/piano arranged section as the piece winds down gives Johns ample space to express his thoughts aggressively. Cammack is the bedrock from start to finish, his resonant sound having a dramatic effect. Holmes' tenderly reflective prelude to his "Rose on Driftwood" gives way to Kolker's bass clarinet musings and finally the pianist's forceful treatment of the stirring theme, then seconded by Kolker. The pianist's solo is reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal, especially so with Jamal's former bassist Cammack's signature patterns and Johns' stuttering rhythms. Kolker reiterates the memorable melody in glowing, penetrating fashion before a soothing fade-out conclusion.

The CD's finale is Richard Rodgers' "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound of Music. Johns' drums launch this up-tempo, exhilarating interpretation, with Kolker's tenor ravishing both on the theme and in his swirling, restlessly probing solo. Cammack and Johns create a ceaselessly buoyant foundation for Holmes' absorbing flight, and then it's back to Kolker for more welcome theme and variations before he hooks up with the leader for a celebratory give-and-take out chorus. Here's a great tune that more jazz groups should pick up on, although they would be hard pressed to top this version.

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Scott Albin