By S. Victor Aaron
BANN is a jazz supergroup of sorts, consisting of saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist Jay Anderson, guitarist Oz Noy and drummer Adam Nussbaum. We know how supergroups can be hit-or-miss affairs; either egos clash and the different voices don't click together, or they come together naturally to create something that can be very special. BANN didn't just come together for a one-off project on some whim; the group has toured together at festivals and jazz clubs across Europe since 2007. So, one thing you already know about this band is that they coalesced, else they wouldn't have been at it for three plus years. What is left to know is for this first album by the four is, what is the composite style these disparate talents came up with, and did it make for a worthwhile record?
Every one of these participants are accomplished jazz musicians and except for Blake, got mentioned here previously in some form or another. Oz Noy's spotlight came in the form of a funky fusion record, which might make it a bit surprising to hear him in the context of what is straight up post-bop record. At least, that was my initial impression, until I got to thinking about how John Scofield made the same change-up as the 80s turned into the 90s, and how successful he was at it without really changing musical personalities. Noy's presence works in BANN for exactly the same reason; indeed As You Like, their first album, is a perfect companion to Scofield's Meant To Be (1991), and anyone who dug that record will surely get into this one, too (Heck, the cheery, rapid-fire lines of Will Call" even closely relates to Meant To Be's Some Nerve").
There's actually only one degree of separation between Noy and Scofield: Nussbaum drummed in Scofield's trio of the late 70s/early 80s Blake, it should be noted, has also toured with Sco.' As a past winner of the Thelonius Monk international saxophone competition, Blake fits in very nicely with Noy. He's got a fluid but meaty tone and a articulation that knows its way around tradition and yet, looks forward (a good trait to have when sharing the front with Noy). The Nussbaum/Anderson rhythm section has a completely bop mindset, that stubbornly rubs against Noy's rock tendencies while Blake negotiates a middle ground. The friction results in a band the plays like mainstream jazz but never quite sounding entirely like it. This clash of personalities is just the thing that holds my interest after many listens.
Together, the foursome swing like champs, as in the opener All The Things You Are." But also on that song, there's an updated arrangement to the sturdy standard that subtly tips its hat to rock. That same bop cadence/rock attitude charges up Joe Henderson's non-cyclical delight Isotope" on the opposite side of the track order, where Noy invents a fuzzed-up riff as a counterpoint to Henderson's melody; it gives an already strong composition a contemporary kick in the pants. David Crosby's Guinnevere," a mysterious, floating composition that resists classification, gets covered here faithfully, retaining the ethereal beauty of the song.
Anderson's big showcase comes in the first two minutes of Days Of Old," an impalpable order of notes that eventually makes way for Nussbaum's deep balladry. As You Like," the song, is the pick of the originals, a 3/4 blues from Noy where he plays a little skronky wah wah normally heard in fusion or rock, and gives the tune a rugged, funky edge that Blake exploits and where Noy seems completely at home. At Sundown," from Anderson, puts a little country twang in the jazz, much in the way Bryan And The Haggards does it, and Noy's slide even mimics a pedal steel guitar.
The BANN Quartet works together well because everyone is allowed to be themselves, and you can really pick up on the individual personalities. Put that together with some strong originals mixed in with smart arrangements of covers, and As You Like becomes a recommended choice for anyone who's a fan of any of the players.
As You Like will hit the streets February 15, from Jazz Eyes Records.
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