New York Standards Quartet ‘Power of Ten’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

Adobe Photoshop PDFIf the first album whetted the appetite, then the follow up, the second album in total from this collective on Whirlwind, is a thrilling summation of where the group are currently at. Label head and bassist Michael Janisch is accompanied by drummer Gene Jackson, a long-time member of Herbie Hancock’s piano trio, pianist David Berkman and on various saxophones, Tim Armacost, with a nod to both John Coltrane and especially Wayne Shorter from his Blue Note period. Together, as with their previous offering, the quartet’s ethos remains at once coherent and undiminished, providing modern updates to the classic standards as well as laying down some meaty originals from within the group. Pianist Berkman, who has performed with both Tom Harrell and the Vanguard Orchestra, is particularly prolific with no less than four compositions. Of note stylistically is the use of brief vignettes to introduce or bookmark longer pieces and this gives the impression of a constant flow of music. Changing the original tempo of a standard is a forte of the quartet and they excel in this domain on a completely different mid-tempo take on ‘All of me’ with Armacost impressing on soprano saxophone and some expansive Tyneresque tickling of the ivories from Berkman. In marked contrast, a gorgeous rendition of Strayhorn’s ‘Lush Life’ is imbued with just the right dose of introspection and melancholy. On the hard driving and swinging number, ‘Three card Molly’, the quartet are well and truly in full flow. Moreover, there is fine interplay between members with the emphasis on melodic improvisation, ranging from the modal sounds of Berkman to the fiery tenor of Armacost. If one should judge a chef by how well they can cook an omelette, then, perhaps, jazz musicians should in turn be measured by their degree of competency in handling a standard. The good news is that the New York Standards Quartet pass the test with flying colours.

Tim Stenhouse