The tuxedoed, sunglasses-clad, cocktail-nursing David Gibson in Inner Agent’s CD-gatefold photo evokes not the James Bond type that the title suggests but the laidback cool of the Rat Pack. That’s not what the trombonist’s postbop music brings to mind, though. Gibson’s seventh album is certainly hip, but it teems with restless energy, freshness and, except for one awkward cover, inspiration.
Nobody, for example, could fairly call “The Scythe” laidback, with its zigzag melody and Gibson’s itchy harmonies alongside saxophonists Doug Webb and Caleb Curtis. Ditto the ants-in-the-pants take on Curtis Fuller’s “The Court,” where trumpeter Freddie Hendrix’s solo dances with abandon and Gibson shadowboxes in staccato salvos. “Axe Grinder” combines two brands of rhythmic intensity: The rhythm section (pianist Theo Hill, bassist Alexander Claffy, drummer Kush Abadey) establishes a funk swerve-with a hint of ska-for the theme, then charges into swing for the solos by Hendrix (who channels Freddie Hubbard), Gibson and Hill.
Gibson and crew certainly can relax, as on Claffy’s warm romance “A.J.” The trombonist plays it coy, even sexy, as if holding back a tantalizing secret; Hendrix reaches for the pretty notes. But even this has a creative fire beneath the surface, accentuated by the oblong 6/4 meter and Abadey’s elaborate brushwork. Likewise, for all its wistfulness, “Sweetness,” another Fuller cover, sparkles from the ensemble’s synergy.
The errant cover is Billy Taylor’s iconic “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free).” Gibson’s band renders it as straight, rather unimaginative gospel-jazz, the horn solos comprising stock licks and light melodic variations. Only Hill-Inner Agent’s MVP, for his consistency-finds any inspiration in the tune, whose presence feels more like an obligation. It stands out all the more because the rest of the album has such zest.