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A Declaration of Optimism by Jeff Campbell

Associate Professor of Jazz Studies & Contemporary Media, and ECMS Collegiate Instructor in Jazz Double Bass and in Jazz Combo & Improvisation at the Eastman School of Music, Jeffrey Campbell is one of the most active performer/teachers working today. His continuing jazz work with Marian McPartland, Gene Bertoncini, Rich Perry, Trio East, Harold Jones, and the Eastman Jazz Quartet featuring Harold Danko, is always of a highly skilled nature. Among his other activities is time spent as a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra bass section and spending his summers at the Birch Creek Music Performance Center in Door County, Wisconsin, where he serves as program director. As a writer he is a regular contributor to the Double Bassist magazine, and is the Jazz Editor of Bass World. As a bass player Campbell is the perfect combination of brains, intuition, taste, refinement, sympathetic communicative abilities and rhythmic stability.

This is the second recording by Campbell’s trio, following up on their 2004 West End Avenue recording. The saxophone chair is held by Chicago-based John Wojciechowski, who was a finalist in the 1996 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Campbell’s work includes time playing with The Chicago Jazz Orchestra, The Chicago Jazz Ensemble, The Woody Herman Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Clark Terry, Charlie Haden, and Kurt Elling. As a soloist his playing has many of the same hallmarks as Eric Alexander’s; a firm grasp of harmony and it’s upper chordal structure architectural possibilities, a solid sense of rhythmic intuitiveness and a seamless approach to phrase and line.

Drummer John Hollenbeck, like his cohorts, has a resume a mile long. Currently a professor in Drumset, Improvisation, and Composition at the Jazz Institute Berlin (Germany), he has also played with Bob Brookmeyer, Fred Hersch, Tony Malaby, the Village Vanguard Orchestra, Kenny Wheeler, Pablo Ziegler, Meredith Monk. His work within this ensemble is a light, airy, with an incredible precision and emphasis on extended and tautly organized cymbal work.

This disc is truly thinking man’s music and not for the average listener. The compositions, by Campbell, are highly organized and have specifically intended programmatically conceived origins. While the opening title track wanes, the disc really gets going with "Tower Of Glass." On that cut, as well as on "Wabash III," the three musicians all throw down in a manner so exhilarating one wishes they would one day make a disc of music containing nothing but such feel-good hot conceptualizations. "Tower" is soul drenched while "Wabash" features some fleet fingered, hip and hypnotizing work from Campbell. Wojciechowski’s solo, on the other hand, is in stark contrast with his reliance on arpeggiated structures which he uses as divergently different material to the bassist’s more empathetically oriented lines.

For the most part, however, the rest of the disc is devoted to the playing out of specifically oriented models. "Gregorian" is put together in such a way as to make the natural minor scale the initial stepping stone for both saxophonist and bassist. "South Of Las Vegas," on the other hand, shifts between major and minor, but not in quick jaunts. Instead longer periods of time are employed in each section drawing out the tension with a resultant effect of kaleidoscoping harmonic effects.

There are some misses. Lacking focus "The Question" rambles a bit and "Hoot Gibson" takes it’s time to get going before it settles into a repetitive minimalistic groove. Recommended for those who wish to hear jazz made by three of today’s most accomplished artists, but be prepared to be thrown into a highly organized and supremely intellectual world; this is certainly not Sonny Rollins’ trio work.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jeff Campbell
  • CD Title: A Declaration of Optimism
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Music Cambeaux Productions
  • Tracks: A Declaration Of Optimism, Tower Of Glass, By Another Way, Gregorian, Duplicity, The Question Is, Wabash III, South Of Las Vegas and Hoot Gibson
  • Musicians: Jeff Campbell (bass), John Wojciechowski (tenor saxophone), John Hollenbeck (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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