The Bad Plus and the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, a few years ago, blew the walls down when it came to how modern musical elements could be fused into jazz and still be true to the history and culture of America’s classical music. Traveling down that same road comes E.S.P. The best way to think of this group is cool jazz meets groove. Their hip swinging lines are fused with an emphasis on the beat and their melodies are just cool enough to have been composed back in the 1950s. The result is some of the freshest new jazz heard since the Rippingtons’ earliest recordings and Gamalon’s rocking Western New York jazz music.
The quartet’s members, all seasoned and well-studied musicians, come to their art with a seriousness of purpose that doesn’t neglect infusing excitement into the mix. Co-founder and guitarist John Magnante is an Oswego State grad who studied with Rick Balestra. Matthew Vacanti, on bass, has a classical background and has worked with artists like Joey DeFrancisco, Kevin Mahagony, and Willie and Lobo. Drummer Karl Sterling studied with Peter Erskine, Danny D'Imperio, and Joe Morello, and has worked with artists like Delbert McClinton and Debbie Gibson. Saxophonist and flutist Brian Sherer is a Buffalo native who studied at SUNY Fredonia and has worked with artists like Stroke, Mario DeSantis, and Blue Norther.
What sets their music approach from the music of other young bands is a clean approach to line, a sway to the beat, and at times the most subtlest of backbeats. Magnante’s purely flowing lines are best heard on compositions like “Eclipse.” He finds a way to get inside the chord changes while still playing on top of them, piling up phrase after phrase of melodic concepts that culminate in a most pointed and clever conclusion. Saxophonist Sherer’s work on “New Shoes” belies a harmonic daring that is rarely heard. Not rushing through his thoughts, he sparkles without forcing himself on the listener.
Sterling’s drums are, however, the glue that holds this ensemble together. In much the same way Steve Gadd never plays the same groove on two different tunes, the same can be said for Sterling’s work on this disc. Whether clipping the background by implying beats he doesn’t play, as on “Navajo,” or just laying the perfect foundation, as on the light swinger “Salina Street,” Sterling has an uncanny ability to play just the right thought at just the right time.
Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip’s producing is, to coin the British, spot on. He has fashioned a sound that is so true it almost seems, when listening to the group, like they are in the same room. If this group, which can’t be highly recommended enough, can find their footing within today’s music business following their ride will be most interesting.