Not too long ago, trombonist JC Sanford had a semi-regular gig at Imminent Brewing in his hometown of Northfield, Minnesota. Putting his slide in play alongside the suds, he used the opportunity to deliver off-the-cuff takes on standards in a laidback environment. Unfortunately, this positive experience came to a forced end. A number of weeks after a memorable show with bassist Jeff Bailey and drummer Phil Hey, COVID-19 swept in and put the kibosh on the entire scene.
Eager to keep the vibe alive in some form, and intent on finding new outlets for engagement while living in limbo, Sanford figured out a solution: With a little help from the Minnesota State Arts Board, which had established a grant program focused on fostering community connections, he hatched a plan to record an album that would present an imagined vision of how those performances might have continued to take shape—and get the finished product to his Imminent audience.
In seeking to capture the spirit of those brewery hits, Sanford didn’t bring any arrangements to the studio sessions he booked with Bailey and Hey. The trio simply picked tunes with a collective appeal, sorted out a few details on the spot, and went to town. The results, not surprisingly, speak to spontaneity and serious fun. Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne classic “Time After Time” charms in unfussy fashion. Wayne Shorter’s “Juju,” spurred on by Hey, offers a taste of intrigue. Thelonious Monk’s “Nutty” proves to be a jaunty joint given over to swaggering sentiments. And Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose,” opening with Bailey’s bass, is purely meditative and malleable. JC Sanford’s aim was to create music to drink in and drink by; he most certainly has hit the mark.