Carrothers doesn't get saddled or sidetracked with radical reworkings or slavish repertory copies. Each of the pieces benefits from sharp arranger's touch and abiding sense of ensemble economy. Subtle surprises abound, but they're always in the service of the tunes. Gress and Stewart are near perfect in their accompaniment and equally stimulating in their solo statements. They're each experts at framing Carrothers' leads and just as adeptly taking the wheel in an organic fashion that doesn't feel contrived or forced. Carrothers seems to appreciate the freedom that level of shared prowess affords him and the three men regularly engage in chases and interpolations secure in the shared knoweldge that the basics are always buttoned up.
Picking highlights in the program is a challenge since all twelve pieces sustain such high standards. The light to dark lyricism of Powell's Gertrude's Bounce" is an ideal vehicle for Carrother's closely colluding hands and the muscular finesse of the Gress/Stewart bass/drums tandem. The one-two punch of Duke Jordan's Jordu" and Brown's Daahoud" is perhaps the most inspired instance of sequencing. The first scrolls out like martial march, Stewart dropping snare rolls beneath Carrother's staggered suspensions and Gress' robust bass thrum. The second gets a dosing of funk in the Horace Silver-sense with a brisk tempo reading that has the leader's hands working a dizzying clip.
Carrothers and his crew succeed in a format favored by so many others by preserving what makes it timeless and summarily jettisoning any baggage that might weight it down. The effect, especially on this program of familiar hardbop vehicles, is one that joins the best aspects of tradition with a fluid injection of personal expression. No coincidence then that it's the same tactic taken in the past by the very subjects of their tribute on the horns plus rhythm quintet.