Scott Healy Ensemble - "Hudson City Suite" (2012) - 8.75/10
Scott Healy - piano, Tim Hagans - trumpet, Jeff Driscoll - soprano sax,
Kim Richmond - alto sax; Tom Luer - clarinet/tenor sax, Alex Budman - tenor sax, Doug Webb - baritone sax, Bill Churchville - trumpet, Brian Swartz - trumpet, Tim Hagans - trumpet, Andrew Lippman - trombone, George Thatcher - bass trombone, Carlitos Del Puerto - bass, Bill Wysaske - drums, others...
In a word - marvelous!
Aside from highly listenable compositions and presentation, Scott Healy's gift is one of architecture. His use of dynamics to build tension and pace a chart so that it thrills rather than overwhelms the listener is marvelous. Solos are spaced apart by brilliant ensemble passages, and the unit is ridiculously responsive and tight!
"Hudson City Suite" is an impressionistic description of life in a mythical city - influenced by Ellington in the best possible ways but also highly original. Many of the pieces are either tone-poems or descriptive musically. Highlights include "Central Trolley" - a ride that begins with the pastels of a morning's hush in solitude, growing more brash as the train fills with caffeinated people heading downtown. Of note is Kendall Kay's brush work, first resembling the soothing rhythms of the trolley, slowly building to full blown stick bashing - driving the whole piece. The ingenuous "Summit Avenue Conversation" is just that: dialogue of all forms human, from everyday brass to sass-talkin' saxes, building wonderfully with great solos from Andrew Lippman, Tim Hagans & Alex Budman, ending in a very clever repartee between only plain brass and the languid sax section.
"Princess Tongora" is more impressionism with muted trumpets, tinkling piano and river-like melodies. Jeff Driscoll lights this one up on soprano sax. The composer's piano solo is mesmerizing, fraught with longing. A brief "Interlude" paints a magnificent still-life of big city existence. The bluesy and tradional "Franklin Steps" has much to love, particularly from drummer Kay, along with some cool poly-tonality. The soloing is a bit par for the course from just about everybody except Healy - who has a stellar turn on piano. "Gaslight" is expectedly film-noir, not quite establishing itself but boasting a truly wonderful ending.
Packed with intrigue is "Koko On the Boulevard"; more fabulous dynamic build ups over fun and ambiguous form with lush, complex harmonies and a seriously shining solo from Doug Webb on baritone sax. It all gets wrapped up by a neat combo of muted brass and clarinets. The closing "Prelude" (actually the first of the set to be composed) in particular evokes Ellington; more femme fatale music complete with Johnny Hodges-style vibrato and a mellow trumpet solo from Brian Swartz (just about all the soloists on this album are knockouts). Some of the best writing is saved for the end of the suite with lovely, shimmering ascending and descending lines.
One hesitates to toss around the word masterpiece these days in regards to a larger jazz composition, since there are so many. "Hudson City Suite" is one, perhaps the first true masterpiece of the new millenium. If you like Ellington, you will absolutely love it; a very, very strong work that is highly enjoyable to listen to straight through (rare!) Check it out!