It’s obvious by the 4th bar of the first cut on Perimeter, the Verve Jazz Ensemble’s latest release, that these guys can really swing. But as the album clearly demonstrates, the VJE has just as much fun in many other musical spaces too.
With Perimeter, the VJE’s 3rd album, the band continues to advance its rapidly growing US and International following, building on the top-10 JazzWeek performance of its debut release (It’s About Time, 2013) and second album (East End Sojourn, 2014).
Featuring Jon Blanck (tenor), Tatum Greenblatt (trumpet), Steve Einerson (piano), Elias Bailey (bass), and Josh Feldstein (drums), Perimeter opens with VJE tenor man Jon Blanck’s tidy arrangement of the classic Groovin’ Hard, which sets the stage for the album beautifully. Few know that the tune—a huge feature of Buddy Rich’s big band back in the day—was originally written by Don Menza as a piece for quartet. It’s hard to imagine, really…until you hear just how adeptly the VJE lays into this piece. From trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt’s smooth opening solo, through Jon Blanck’s driving tenor feature, all the way through VJE drummer Josh Feldstein’s sizzling drum solo, the quintet states its case to recast this tune in a small group setting very convincingly.
Mothlight, a Jon Blanck original, and the CD’s second track, is a funky, fun delight. Propelled by Josh Feldstein’s infectious drum grove, the tune unleashes a bluesy, cascading piano solo by Steve Einerson, a kicking tenor feature by Jon, and a knockout bass solo by Elias Bailey.
2 for Daddy, an original penned by Josh Feldstein, evokes shades of a good spy movie. Josh once again supplies the necessary percussive energy and articulation, while the band elegantly passes the baton from solo to solo, resulting in a high-octane, finger-snapping swinger in just under 4 minutes. Next up, Alone Together, a smooth-as-silk samba rendition of this classic standard, drops the album back a gear or two. It features a great rhythm section groove by Steve, Elias and Josh, beautiful soloing by and communicative interplay between Tatum and Jon on trumpet and tenor, and the overall trademark Latin feel of the VJE at its best.
The album’s namesake, Perimeter, another Jon Blanck original, follows, shifting the album’s musical landscape several orders of magnitude. A broken straight-eighth feel with contrasting dual melodies introduced by tenor and trumpet, the composition moves into and through a delicate palate of orchestral-esque phases, textures and solos before resolving with a restating of the tune’s dual melody. Tatum, Jon, Steve, Elias and Josh each demonstrate an individual feel and group interplay that takes the composition into an emotional space filled with subtlety, understated texture, and intensity.
Evergreen, another original, this one contributed by VJE pianist Steve Einerson, comes next. The tune projects a very well defined hard bop undercurrent. Each horn takes a bite at a chorus over the form, capped off by Steve’s playful but high impact soloing. Josh’s equally high impact drumming is featured prominently on this cooking track, from top to bottom.
Next, the VJE rhythm section, performing distinctly as a trio, delivers a real treat in its ballad version of the timeless Bill Evan’s classic, Waltz for Debby. Steve, Elias and Josh lay down a groove you can practically drink, featuring the majestic voicing of Mr. Einerson’s piano.
On Green Dolphin Street, up next, gives the Verve Jazz Ensemble an opportunity to stretch out on an uptempo arrangement of this beloved standard. Launched by Tatum’s sweeping trumpet and Steve’s smooth piano, the tune opens with a taste of Mambo and is capped off by a rippin’ drum solo by Josh Feldstein.
The album wraps up with another original composition, this one by VJE trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt entitled Two Cooks on the Delta, reminiscent of the Cannonball and Nat Adderly brothers’ playbook. Tatum can be heard on the count-off, and throughout, driving this bluesy swinger from start to finish, providing a perfect high-energy conclusion to the VJE’s latest offering.
Indeed, Perimeter demonstrates that the Verve Jazz Ensemble can swing, and a whole lot more.