7/29: Whaling City Sound Releases

Greg Murphy's Summer Breeze is hot to the touch

Greg Murphy's Summer Breeze isn't so much a session as a celebration, a jazz party full of great sounds, really good vibes, and an ensemble that came ready to give Murphy's musical vision real shape.

His fourth outing as a leader and his Whaling City Sound debut, Summer Breeze finds the Chicago native turned New Yorker in a very expressive mood. In fact, there's so much to talk about—in terms of notable moments, in terms of style-blazing—it's hard to know where to start. There are moments when Murphy steps into the spotlight, as in the dazzling opening tune "Solar, " a Miles Davis composition, and in the closing "Suspended Time, " a ripper that brings the session to a resounding close. There are other moments when he steps back to let his trio—including Eric Wheeler (Dee Dee Bridgewater) on bass and impressive upstart Kush Abadey on drums (Wallace Roney, Ravi Coltrane)—do the heavy lifting. And at still other times guest trumpeter Josh Evans handles solos the way a juggler catches plates, with fizz and aplomb.

Other guests make worthy appearances, including percussionist Raphael Cruz, sax player Jay Rodriguez, and singer Malou Beauvoir, who floats soulfully into the spotlight on three tracks, notably a rendition of Duke's "Sophisticated Lady." Top drawer tenor legend Eric Wyatt lights up a few tunes, with great soloing, especially on "Solid." Elsewhere, his cadre of talent allows their bandleader to re-take center stage, and he makes the most of his up-tempo opportunities, especially on "Expectations" and "No One in Particular, " two originals that showcase Murphy's intense, McCoy-esque inspiration.

Throughout the recording, Murphy demonstrates the depths of his experiences; with Rashied Ali, with Ellis Marsalis down in New Orleans, his days in a Chicago-based pop band, and his more than minor interest in Latin jazz. Indeed, there's a lot to be excited about on Summer Breeze, an album that is perhaps just a bit erroneously titled. While there's a certain refreshing quality that suffuses bright color throughout, make no mistake, this one comes in hot, with excellent performances and the kind of musicianship that makes spinning a session like this immensely rewarding.

A Step in the Right Direction
Steppin' Up features Eric Hargett and his baritone sax truly stepping out

There's certainly something about the baritone sax that gets your attention. The sounds are commanding; they grab and don't let go. They can throttle. They can lurk. They can dominate the soundscape. In the right hands, it's devastating. Eric Hargett has just those hands.

On Steppin' Up, Hargett's remarkable debut as a bandleader, the upstart leader manages to avoid opening night jitters, thanks to a diverse and tasty ten-spot of tunes and the incredible support of Joey DeFrancesco on the B3 and piano, and drummer Gerry Gibbs. Of course, when you've got that kind of seasoned experience behind you, one can only imagine how it'd soothe the nerves.

Right out of the gate, Hargett, DeFrancesco and Gibbs really bring it. There's the raw and sizzling funk of the title track that kicks things off. There's the hard bop of "Woody's Dream, " which starts in high gear and then shifts into overdrive, led by Hargett's charging bari, and the nifty interplay of his rhythm-mates lifting things to a higher elevation. "Baretta" is an homage to '70s TV theme song funk, with Hargett doing some seriously heavy lifting. There is even a handful of tunes—"West, " "Hackensack, " and "Pacific Voyage, " in particular—in which Hargett puts down the bari and picks up the tenor, with excellent results.

On the flip side (not literally), Hargett is not averse to taking it down a notch, smoothing the edges, as he does on his super-tender cover of "You Don't Know What Love Is, " with the B3 laying down a comfortable bed of chord changes and Gibbs urging Hargett with nothing more than sexy brushes. The result is heart-felt, deeply moving … and just the kind of break listeners need in order to jump back into the dirty bari that Hargett serves up for much of the session. The same poignance emerges on the lovely "Myra." Lucky girl, that Myra, to have such a sweet ode written to her. But lest you start thinking Hargett is hopelessly romantic, check out the closer, "Sunday Fog, " a nasty, virtuosic, locomotive of a piece that will leave you breathless and satisfied.

Hargett hails from Houston, got schooled in Austin, and has since moved to LA. He met up with Gibbs after an invite to play in his Thrasher Big Band back in 2006. Hargett later teamed up with Gibbs' father, the vibist and composer Terry Gibbs, in the master's own Terry Gibbs Dream Band. He has clearly gained some savvy and some sophistication along the way, and it shows up grandly on Steppin' Up. From ballads to burning funk, Hargett proves he can do it all, and this, his first real crack at leadership. He's had some good apprenticeships during his brief career thus far, and he's got A-list support to bring it all home, which is why Steppin' Up is an incredible step in the right direction.

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