Trumpeter/composer/arranger John McNeil's latest release, East Coast Cool
, explores and expands the "West Coast cool" jazz sound pioneered by the Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker quartet half a century ago. McNeil, who has worked with Mulligan and written arrangements for a Mulligan tribute band, was inspired to apply Mulligan's arranging principles to free music with contemporary bass and drums. The product of this inspiration is, East Coast Cool
, a collection of 12 tracks that is evocative, but not derivative, of the Mulligan-Baker sound.
The disc opens with with a Mulligan/Baker style dialog between McNeil and saxophonist Allan Chase. But while Allan Chase's melodic baritone channels Mulligan throughout the CD, McNeil eschews the Chet Baker sound, laying out a more daring, sophisticated sound of his own. It is Chase's playing, serving as a gentle anchor to the Mulligan sound, which allows McNeil to express a contemporary free jazz sensibility within a "West Coast cool" context. Bassist John Hebert and drummer Matt Wilson quite capably lay down the cool groove, but adeptly pick up the pace when McNeil takes off. Standout tracks include "Deadline", "A Time to Go," "Wanwood", and an excellent cover of "Bernie's Tune."
John McNeil could have created a ho-hum tribute CD. Instead, he created a new sound. It will be interesting to see where this sound goes from here. Regardless, East Coast Cool
is a bright, charming, very listenable mixture of styles.