Leading a band to the realization of one's ideas is its own challenge. Having side players versed in leading themselves can only add to the process. Seattle-born, New York-based horn man Nathan Eklund leads such a band through ten original compositions on "Trip to the Casbah."
Splitting his time on trumpet and flugelhorn, Eklund oversees a group that saxophonist Donny McCaslin, guitarist John Hart and bassist Bill Moring, each of whom has led his own sessions. Along with Tim Horner on drums, the band uplifts the leader's pieces with authority and their own ideas. Eklund, meanwhile, moves things along with sharp but not acerbic trumpet tone, balanced with sweeter sounds on flugel (but never losing the improvisational edge on that instrument--think Art Farmer, for example).
The tunes for the most part represent a gentler post-bop sensibility: hard when it needs to be but knowing when to pull back as well. The melodies here may take a little warming up to, but function nicely as improvisational springboards. The tandem lines of Eklund and McCaslin shine here, and the leader also gets some refreshing duet time in with guitar, bass and drums, on "Hand Picked from Her Garden," "Happiness Is..." and part one of the title track, respectively. "Trip to the Casbah" is an accomplished piece of modern straight-up jazz.