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Craig Bailey: Brooklyn

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Alto saxophonist and flutist Craig Bailey spotlights the music of his group, Brooklyn, on his latest recording, and it is obvious from the opening notes of the date’s first tune, “The Crux of the Matter,” that he’s been heading this ensemble for over 11 years. There are no stilted performances or ragged edges that repeatedly surface on blowing sessions or hired-gun dates. This band has played these songs long enough to have a polish and precision, which is refreshing. The group also brings a sense of purpose to Bailey’s compositions as well as an absence of ego and showboating.

The core sextet includes brass specialist Derrick Gardner (much better on trumpet than flugelhorn), trombonist Dupor Georges, pianist Kelvin Sholar, bassist Eric Lemon and drummer Vincent Ector. The unit sounds genuinely excited and exuberant on the uptempo numbers, with Bailey’s bright alto and sparse flute work as interesting during the group exchanges as on the solos.

While almost any sextet gets compared to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, there is just as much blues and soul as hard bop running through the group’s music, even if such tunes as “The Journey Continues (C.B.#2)” and “The Crux of the Matter” do include the familiar Messengers touches of massed-horn interjections during the piano solo and drum solos serving as the bridge between the last piano phrases and the head. Brooklyn also handles surging pieces much better than slower ones. The pace drags on ballads, especially on “Lena.” Fortunately, they make some of their best statements, both collectively and individually, on “Along Came Betty.”

Bailey’s first solo date, A New Journey (Candid, 1996) had a tentative, unsettled air to it. He now is a confident, fluid and steady improviser, and his impact is sizeable on Brooklyn.