It’s always startling why, with the great wealth of instrumental possibilities available to jazz artists, they continually place themselves in the same old formats, even here in the 21st century. Sure, there is a historical connection and directness of purpose that can only be found in foundational amalgams such as the piano trio and the jazz quintet, but how do young artists bring their name forth if they only work in the tried and true. Shaking up the box, while not necessarily working outside of it, is as good a way as any.
Doing some serious shaking of his own on his debut, First Step, is bassist and composer Kevin Pace. Working within the non-conventional trio of trumpet, guitar and bass, Pace makes a strong statement for being not only open to other sonic possibilities within the jazz continuum, but also shows some already well-developed chops. The D.C. based double bassist has worked with artists like David "Fathead" Newman, Gretchen Parlato and the under-appreciated Freddie Redd. On this disc Pace is joined by Arizona native Joe Herrera on trumpet and flugelhorn, and guitarist Rodney Richardson. On the disc’s eight tracks they play three Pace originals, two each by Herrera and Richardson, and cover the Irving Berlin chestnut "How Deep Is The Ocean?"Herrera’s brass sound is clear and broad. He plays with a well-defined sense of time, a clear understanding of harmonic motion, and a suppleness and fluency of technique clearly much lusted after by his brass peers. On tunes like "7524" and "Blues Noir" he crafts lines that sweep effortlessly throughout the trumpet’s range in a series of traditionally-oriented phrases that eventually open up to wider and more exciting vistas; by building lovely line upon lovely line Herrera shows a real skill at being infused with fire yet balanced by coherence and delicate sensibilities at the same time. On other occasions, however, as on "Once Upon A Time," he seems a little unsure and retreats to a series of few-note couplets, but these moments are rare on the disc.Richardson’s guitar is as steady a presence as any jazz group could desire. While his single line solos are all beautiful, his bebop lines on "Autumn Euphoria" are hipness personified, his real skill is playing just the right feel and voicing behind Herrera and in lock-step with Pace. The slight accents on "San Luis" and his careful enfolding of the harmonic possibilities inherent on "Michelle" are perfectly placed and artfully rendered.
Pace is the rock upon which the other two reverberate off of and the tie that clearly holds this band together. Within Pace’s playing one hears not only light drum fills, the ting of a cymbal, a brush hitting a tom and a kick drum’s sock, but also a building of harmonic tension and as solid and stably oriented a bassist as any of the masters. Pace’s gift, surely gained through hard work, is the creating of foundational lines so perfect the removal of any single note would negate the total. As a soloist Pace is still young and developing, but in terms of producing a bedrock one feels the ghost of current and past masters smiling along with his trippy lines. While this is not quite Kenny Wheeler’s Angel Song ensemble, given enough time working together this group could find their own strong definition just as ably as Wheeler’s.