Trumpeter John McNeil and alto saxophonist Jeremy Udden might seem like unlikely collaborators. McNeil’s career began with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and continues through a series of straightforward but bold releases under his own name. Although Udden has played with Either/Orchestra and Bob Brookmeyer, his band Plainville performs work that often sounds like instrumental takes on pastoral folk music, rich in ensemble textures and spare on blowing room (at least where the saxophonist is concerned).
But they make a great pair, evoking a blend of ’50s-era Chet Baker and Lee Konitz. That sound might be suggested mainly by Hush Point’s instrumentation, which is filled out by bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, putting these ears in mind of Gerry Mulligan’s Pacific Jazz sessions. McNeil, a veteran of the Mulligan Concert Band, plays with an unembellished tone that’s striking in its directness. Udden also has a dry delivery, although he favors the middle register. With Sperrazza using brushes exclusively, the music has some bright punctuation without the thunder, another mark of a cooler era.
Despite the tonal similarities to their forefathers, Hush Point has different ideas on where to take the music. Instead of borrowing from Mulligan, they take on two tunes by Jimmy Giuffre: “Iranic”-where all four players pair off into different duets for strong interplay-and “The Train and the River.” Of their originals, Udden’s engaging style borrows from Bartók (“Bar Talk”) for an exotic line, and pays tribute to Brookmeyer in the jaunty “B. Remembered,” based on “I Remember You.” McNeil’s tunes range in mood, from laidback to tense and up-tempo. Even in the latter situation no one gets too animated, but the band is always engaging and conversational.
(Editor’s Note: Listen to two cuts from the album here.)