The story seems implausible, but label head Jake Cohn swears it’s true: In 2007 he hired Wycliffe Gordon, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and drummer Kendrick Scott to back a Swedish singer and harpist named Malin Johansson, who performed under the name Blue Utopia, for a gig at a club in New York. (There’s no trace of her on the Internet.) The show didn’t generate much interest, Cohn said, “but those three guys killed that day.” He wanted to record them, so he brought them into the studio and added bassist Derrick Hodge and vibraphonist/pianist Warren Wolf. Each musician was asked to bring one or two compositions. The result—a beautiful, diverse, perfect session of jazz—sat in storage for nearly a decade because Cohn didn’t have the funding to release it. Now, at last, we have The Co-Op as a vinyl record and digital download.
As it’s a vinyl LP, the album runs only 39 minutes. But there are two songs each by Gordon and Hodge and one each by the other members, and this variety of authorship gives the record an expansive, elastic feel. The soft impressionism of the opener, Hodge’s “Simplicity,” invites comparisons to mid-’60s modal jazz, and the soulful, slightly funky rhythm of Gordon’s “The Theme” conjures late-’60s soul jazz. Scott’s pretty tune “The Journey” features a haunting trumpet conversing with piano, before Wolf switches to vibraphone, soloing with gusto (and much sustain) on the latter. Wolf’s “Katrina” is something of a mini-suite, its slowly swinging midsection bookended by mournful bass-vibes duets.
The record gets progressively wilder. Pelt’s “Jake’s Dilemma” lurches toward Bitches Brew territory, screaming trumpet and scorching trombone layered over a ringing Fender Rhodes electric piano and frenetic drumming. The horns are absent on Hodge’s “Now or Never,” a herky-jerky tone poem in 9/8 that lays a mesmerizing, repeating marimba pattern over hip-hop-inspired drumming. The finale, “Okay!,” is just Gordon—on five trombones, thanks to overdubbing, and it’s a fun, raucous, New Orleans-style finish.