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Kim Richmond Ensemble: Live at Cafe Metropol

West Coast small bands seem to enjoy arrangements with structure and routines more than the rough-and-tumble favored by Big Apple groups. This sextet, led by saxophonist and composer/arranger Kim Richmond, even manages to make a head arrangement called at this gig sound as if it were organized and rehearsed. But this also isn’t one of those annoyingly over-polished, polite combo offerings that have given a smirk to the term “West Coast jazz” over the years. Both the live setting and very personal voices of the musicians make for an enjoyable and involving recording.

To realize how good it is, just consider that the first track, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” never flags or bores yet is more than a quarter-hour long. The theme is delivered by a shifting panoply of horns (Richmond’s alto, John Daversa’s trumpet, Joey Sellers’ trombone) over one of those open, loping six-feel-over-four rhythms with a bass pedal-point pioneered by John Coltrane’s quartet. Each soloist improvises over mutating rhythms and tempos, with Daversa riding a variation of the theme backgrounds to a climax; alto sax ruminating over a rubato suspension with bowed bass before 4/4 time kicks in; trombone entering down low over a rhythm more intimated than stated from pizzicato bass (Kristen Korb); and drummer Erik Klass on toms and hi-hat, intensity rising as the trombone climbs scales to a climax. After a bass solo and a reprise of the theme, there’s a long, exhilarating polyphonic coda.

“Invitation,” that head arrangement, builds bolero-like, solos climaxing with the help of horn riffs. “Seagate 1” and “Fuzzy Wuzzy,” Richmond’s two originals, feature complex chord changes with shifting hard-bop rhythms and turnarounds (the former), and acceleration enhanced by stop-times and little horn kickers (the latter). “In Fine Line” is a quirky canon-like tune with an off-kilter bass pattern and inventive variations behind each soloist. Two lush ballads, “Never Let Me Go” and Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks,” shared by the three horns, round out the program.

Originally Published