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New Directions: New Directions

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Blue Note Records continues to celebrate its rich legacy with the release of the self-titled debut by New Directions, an all-star concept group, focusing mainly on the label’s ’60s period. Under the leadership of alto saxophonist and composer Greg Osby, the repertory band toured selected cities in conjunction with Blue Note’s 60th anniversary. Now, after reshaping a handful of compositions by the likes of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley and Sam Rivers into their own liking, New Directions has delivered an album as inventive as its marketing strategy.

Given that the relatively young lineup-vibraphonist Stefon Harris, pianist Jason Moran, tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, bassist Taurus Mateen and bassist Nasheet Waits-have all played with Osby, sometimes together, the level of group empathy is sublime. Forging an “old school” vibe befitting those legendary ’60s sessions is a seemingly effortless feat for New Directions, as they opt for balanced, well-conceived solos rather than a series of cutthroat grandstanding statements. But don’t let the tribute thing fool you: the savvy ensemble does not fossilize the sound of yesteryear. New Directions superbly translates songs like Hancock’s “Theme from Blow Up,” Shorter’s “Tom Thumb” and “Ping Pong,” and Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” with a subdued, late ’90s vibe. The latter retooling is one of the most inventive renditions of that classic, yet: Moran, Mateen, and Waits underpin the song with a slightly halting Latin rhythm that, along with Harris’ dancing marimba, emphasizes Silver’s West Indian heritage. Osby and Shim state the infectious melody with sundry sultriness, before Shim delivers a beautifully dark solo that recalls the suspenseful urgency of Joe Henderson. Their take on Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” is another pleasure that features Osby and Shim waxing the most soul jazz-inspired solos on the album, followed by Moran’s customary bipolar, impressionistic musing.

The album also features several intriguing originals: Moran’s eerie “Commentary on Electrical Switches” with its fractured, yet idyllic melody affirms his status as Blue Note’s new dark horse, while Osby’s iridescent ballad “Song of the Whispering Banshee” continues to illustrate his enormous poignancy as a composer. New Directions is a welcomed celebration and new addition to Blue Note Records’ legendary canon.