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The David Ullmann 8: Corduroy

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Too often, when a jazz composer draws upon a specific conceptual inspiration, the link between that source and the music itself seems tenuous at best, impossible to determine without the aid of copious liner notes. But slipping David Ullmann’s Corduroy into the CD player for the first time without glancing at the accompanying press release, the dark, spiraling theme of opener “The Chase” immediately called to mind memories of TV detective shows of yore, with trenchcoated figures pursuing shady criminals in clunky, boat-sized cars.

Sure enough, vintage television themes are a primary inspiration for Ullmann on his new album, whose title refers back to the textured pants of the same era. Nostalgia is a primary emotion running through Corduroy, but that’s not to suggest that the disc is in any way retro or backward looking. Instead, the guitarist-composer has used the moods of his pop-culture past to color a strong octet set, with memorable melodies prompting thoughtful solos from a band able to slide easily from pocket to orbit.

That includes cornet player Kirk Knuffke, who views the soft-rock-inspired title track through Herb Alpert-colored glasses but without a trace of irony; Brian Drye, whose darting trombone reaches into the tight spaces of the percolating funk groove on “Ocelot,” which also features Mike McGinnis’ agile and adventurous bass clarinet; and frequent Ullmann collaborator Chris Dingman, whose vibes use the stabbing little-big-band swing of “Papaya” as a sonic trampoline. Not shy about professing his Jim Hall influence, Ullmann plays with patience and soul, building lines from the steady accumulation of resonant single notes on “Champ” and wringing the poignancy from the swaying ballad “You Can’t Go Back.”

Originally Published