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Mosaic: A Celebration Of Blue Note Records (2009)

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Ravi Coltrane

As part of a seventieth year celebration for Blue Note records, the label convened a collection of younger and experienced jazz stars to play hard bop compositions closely identified with their mid-'50s to mid-'60s glory days. This kind of band has been conceived before -- remember Out of the Blue? -- but the difference is these are not new rising stars, but established musicians who have carved their own identities on other labels, except pianist and ostensible leader Bill Charlap. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton, saxophonists Steve Wilson or Ravi Coltrane, and guitarist Peter Bernstein have never recorded for Blue Note as leaders, so it is a curious collection of personnel to process as an identifiable Blue Note band. While certainly a nostalgia trip through these famous tunes, the rearrangements are at times diffuse, somewhat confusing, and lack a certain spark of originality the selections had when they were born. This is not to say the playing itself is substandard, it is far from that via these excellent jazz musicians. These are clearly reimagined tunes, faithful to the precepts of Blue Note, a slight bit cleansed and sterile, but it seems as though they are trying too hard to add new life to material that could be played straight with their own voices for maximum effect. Wilson's arrangements of Bobby Hutcherson's "Little B's Poem" and Thelonious Monk's "Criss Cross" hold the most intrigue, with the former led by his flute in an off minor treatment that strains the original melody, while the latter is a decent treatment, triggered by staggered phrasings and shifting dynamics, especially from Charlap's angular piano. Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge," arranged by Payton, deviates from the original, the melody interpreted by bassist Peter Washington, with tinkling bass and piano leading to the unified, horn-driven second chorus. Cedar Walton's "Mosaic" has Charlap unexpectedly modally morphing drummer Lewis Nash's arrangement with a denser rhythmic foundation. "The Outlaw," a lesser known Horace Silver number, has Charlap again adapting his chart to the color scheme in a feeling closer to Silver's concept. Bernstein channels Grant Green well on his light blue take of Duke Pearson's languid ballad "Idle Moments," while "Dolphin Dance" is a tick-tock, trumpet paced version that is the most updated track of the date, done without violating Herbie Hancock's aesthete. This group is a one shot, made to tour and then splinter as the bandmembers go their separate ways as leaders. They are not one notes, but likely better heard in a stretched, in-concert setting than what sounds here like an extremely controlled studio environment. Mosaic is the perfect title -- jagged edged, asymmetrical pieces laid out in organized form under a bed of black, colors popping out, intriguing, ultimately uneven. ~ Michael G. Nastos