Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt's new electric sound | Bleader

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt's new electric sound

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Jeremy Pelt
  • Ingrid Hertfelder
  • Jeremy Pelt
Over the last five years trumpeter Jeremy Pelt led one of my favorite mainstream groups in all of jazz, a sleek quintet clearly modeled on the powerful Miles Davis-led five-piece from the 60s with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter. Over the course of four stellar albums released between 2008 and last year, Pelt maintained the same strong lineup and honed an increasingly heightened group rapport. These days it's very hard for a jazz musicians to keep a group like that together, especially when each member of your band—saxophonist J.D. Allen, bassist Dwayne Burno, pianist Danny Grissett, and drummer Gerald Cleaver—is a bandleader in his own right, and the economy of the jazz world demands that most musicians play in many different bands. So I wasn't surprised when that particular lineup reached its end last year.

In January, Pelt released Water and Earth (HighNote) with an all-new group that pushes past that acoustic Miles Davis paradigm in favor of an electric sound steeped in the 70s, when the Fender Rhodes keyboard often pushed the acoustic piano to the margins. There are aggressive tracks like "Boom Bishop," where the band flirts with the sound Davis forged on Bitches Brew (with Pelt adding electronic effects to his horn solo), when he was first dabbling with electric instruments, but as you can hear on the piece "Mystique" below, most of the music balances postbop construction with the more sedate, R&B-kissed timbre of 70s fusion. Pelt's front-line partner, saxophonist Roxy Cross, alternates between soprano and tenor, and when she uses the former it definitely pushes the music toward that retro-fusion turf, with a rather bland, watery tone. When she plays tenor her sound is more forceful and full-bodied.

Inside the CD booklet is a single quote from the trumpeter—"This music isn't about a change in direction as much as it's about strengthening my commitment to my art at present"—which doesn't really mean anything as far as I can tell, but for anyone who thinks that Pelt has sold out, it's worth remembering that Water and Earth is not the first time he's explored fusion-related sounds. His fine 2007 album Shock Value: Live at Smoke (MaxJazz) was cut with an electric band, including some of the same musicians on the new album: keyboardist Frank LoCrasto (who appends Bryant on a few tracks) and drummer Dana Hawkins. And the playing here by Pelt and Bryant is seriously high-level stuff, even if I don't dig the sonic profile and rhythmic thrust as much as his old quintet. This guy hasn't really made a misstep while legitimately trying on different approaches, and that's something to salute.

Pelt is in town this week participating in a residency at Columbia College that began yesterday, and the visit culminates with a series of performances he's giving with the school's student jazz ensemble at the Jazz Showcase from Thursday to Sunday.


Today's playlist:

Revolutionary Ensemble, Vietnam (ESP-Disk)
Jackie Day, The Complete Jackie Day: Dig It the Most (Kent)
Al Cohn-Zoot Sims Quintet, You 'n Me (Verve/Mercury)
Horace Silver Quintet, Horace-Scope (Blue Note)
Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc. (Deluxe Edition) (Reprise/Rhino)

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