New York Standards Quartet ‘The New Straight Ahead’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

new-york-standards-quartetRecorded in Japan at the Music Inn studio, this stellar quartet line up features a some of New York’s finest musicians and is a terrifically fresh revisiting of the standards repertoire. This recording has definite hints of the classic 1960s Blue Note albums where musicians were constantly in demand and playing on each other’s albums soloing and playing sideman duties in equal measure and that is certainly one of the strengths of this new album. In this case Gene Jackson features on the drums, David Berkman on piano, the tenorist and soprano saxophonist Tim Armacost alternates, and last but by no means least, Japanese Daiki Yasukagowa performs on bass. The inventive reworking of standards, and by no stretch of the imagination the most obvious pieces either, works extremely well and is illustrated by the relaxed take on Duke Ellington’s ‘It don’t mean a thing’ with Armacost on soprano saxophone. A sudden change of tempo transforms the number and the reedist sets off on an extended solo. In fact it seems to be a trademark of the NYSQ that tempos within a given composition can oscillate and this is further exemplified on the quick-mid-tempo of ‘Autumn Leaves’ which is heavy on the bass and features some lyrical tenor playing. For a ballad of distinction, look no further than ‘When you wish upon a star’ with a piano solo intro and some plaintive tenor. What really comes across here is the amount of creative thought that has gone into the recording and as a whole the brief intro and ending of ‘Polka dots (and Moon beams)’ bookends the album to perfection. The New York Standards Quartet was formed in 2006 and this album is their fourth in total.

Tim Stenhouse