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NYSQ: Power of 10

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NYSQ is for New York Standards Quartet; the 10 is for their duration as a band, in years. Perhaps they like the acronym because, as drummer Gene Jackson says in his liner notes, the Modern Jazz Quartet is one of the band’s models. MJQ is a paradigm, not for style but for the ensemble cohesion that only comes with time. The other members of NYSQ are saxophonist Tim Armacost, pianist David Berkman and bassist Michael Janisch. They do indeed play with the casual tightness of a group that has been around the world a few times together (even though Janisch is new).

Don’t let the “standards” part throw you. Their approach to the songbook is neither safe nor complacent. Before they play “How Deep Is the Ocean” (actually only hinting at it, for a little over a minute, in fragments), they play Berkman’s soaring, six-minute “Deep High Wide Sky,” based on its chord changes. “All of Me” has been done to death. It was a decade old when Django Reinhardt played it. NYSQ gives it hard, fresh harmonic angles and spikes of new energy. Yet when the theme is referenced, it is with affection, not irony. Speaking of affection, Berkman’s “Hidden Fondness” is “Secret Love,” creatively distorted.

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