On paper, Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop looks like nothing so much as Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers—a drummer-led sextet fronted by three horns. But where Blakey’s leadership focused heavily on rhythmic drive, Cervini takes a more nuanced approach. It isn’t just that he routinely scales his patterns to fit what bassist Dan Loomis and pianist Adrean Farrugia are laying down; Cervini drums like someone who’s an arranger at heart, carefully placing each accent for maximum melodic impact.
That’s hardly surprising, because Turboprop is the sort of band that places as much emphasis on the writing as it does on improvisation, with arrangements that underscore the ensemble’s interplay while ingeniously framing the melody. They’re clearly deep listeners, as their version of “Tadd’s Delight” has great fun with Dameronian harmony, while “My Shining Hour,” which takes its inspiration from Geoff Keezer’s 1998 recording on Turn Up the Quiet, is almost a valentine to the pianist’s creative vision. Even the usually sappy “Smile” (Charlie Chaplin’s best-known composition) takes on unexpected dignity in trombonist William Carn’s hands.
Nor are the ’Props slouches when it comes to presenting their own material. Saxophonist Tara Davidson’s “The Queen,” which opens the album, imagines the combo as a big band in miniature, playing harmonized saxophones against trombone and piano over a tuneful, bass-driven groove. It’s catchy, colorful writing, and the full-band interjections that cap Cervini’s solo are rhythmic genius. “Abundance Overture,” by Loomis, takes a different approach to counterpoint, juggling both rhythmic and melodic themes as it builds, voice by voice, to a soaring ensemble statement before giving way to a joyous sax duo by Davidson and Joel Frahm. Abundance is the best sort of musical uplift.