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The Verve Jazz Ensemble: Night Mode (LightGroove)

Review of sixth album from the dynamic group co-led by drummer Josh Feldstein and saxophonist Jon Blanck

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Cover of Night Mode by the Verve Jazz Ensemble
Cover of Night Mode by the Verve Jazz Ensemble

When drummer Josh Feldstein joined forces with tenor saxophonist Jon Blanck to form the Verve Jazz Ensemble back in 2006, the band was a quartet. Over the intervening years that foursome expanded and morphed, eventually becoming a septet for several tracks on 2018’s Connect the Dots. The growth and change has only intensified since then, as this group’s sixth album showcases half a dozen configurations across 10 numbers.           

Opening with the title track, the first of several hard-bop happenings, the full force of the septet is on display. The ensemble deftly shifts from swing to Latin, putting a four-horn front line to good use and leaving space for strong and concise solos. Making the most of its assets and possibilities, this version of the group appears four more times—on Joe Morello’s jumping “Drumorello,” the spicy and funky “Per Your Request,” a fusion-dusted “Hypnosis,” and the Tommy Dorsey-associated “Opus One.”

The five remaining tracks are divvied up between a piano trio, three different quintets, and a sextet. The trio, with Steve Einerson manning the keys, bends Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” to its liking by upping the tempo, tweaking the harmony, and toying with the meter; at the other end of the spectrum, rising star Alexa Tarantino puts her arranging chops and alto flute to good use for a gliding take on Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Vivo Sonhando.” With the midsized units—all of which feature Feldstein, Blanck, Einerson, bassist Elias Bailey, and one additional horn— there’s diversity in programming, as Art Farmer’s bright “Mox Nix,” Wayne Shorter’s sly “Deluge,” and a self-explanatory “Breezy” fill out the program. If there’s a message to be gleaned from this date, it’s that spirit, not size, is truly the tie that binds.       

Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.