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Todd Coolman: Perfect Strangers

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For this intriguing and unprecedented project, veteran bassist Todd Coolman (director of Jazz Studies at SUNY Purchase College) held an open call on his ArtistShare Web site for composers to submit original material. After narrowing down the submissions to seven compositions by “perfect strangers” ranging in age from 17 to 67, he assembled a stellar crew of fellow composers, bandleaders, educators and world class improvisers: trumpeter Brian Lynch, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, pianist Jim McNeely and drummer John Riley. Over a year in the making, Perfect Strangers heralds a new and innovative way of conceiving CDs in this Internet age.

Evan Cobb’s “Crescent City Ditty” jumps nimbly back and forth from earthy second line groover to hard boppish romp, highlighting Lynch’s razor-sharp high-note attack, Alexander’s bold, swaggering tenor lines and McNeely’s brisk single-note facility. Bill Stevens’ ethereal jazz waltz “Full Circle” is a relaxed vehicle, underscored by Riley’s deft brushwork, that serves as a beautiful showcase for Lynch’s cascading lyricism, McNeely’s sensitive touch and sophisticated harmonic sense and Alexander’s commanding facility through all registers of his horn.

Another highlight on this unique collection is Dana Malseptic’s “Connotation,” which features some muscular tenor soloing by Alexander and bristling trumpet work from Lynch in the uptempo blowing section. Riley is also turned loose against a band ostinato here. Mark Saltman’s midtempo swinger “Could You Imagine?” travels in more familiar territory and features particularly brilliant solos from both Alexander and Lynch. Erica Seguine’s affecting “C Minor Waltz” is given a lush, sensitive treatment by the quintet of first-call New Yorkers while Mike Williamson’s buoyant “Caribbean Sunset” has Alexander and Lynch combining for close harmonies on the front line in the tradition of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers or Bobby Watson’s Horizon with trumpeter Terell Stafford. The collection concludes on a thoughtful note with Ryan Truesdell’s beautiful and affecting “Pastorale,” highlighted by stirring solos from Alexander and McNeely.

Produced by Jon Faddis, Coolman’s colleague at Purchase, Perfect Strangers is a triumph in cooperative music-making.