Keeping It Flexible, Careful Not to Raise a Ruckus


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The trumpeter John McNeil’s imagination is right on the line between jazz at its most secure and coded and jazz as an open window, letting anything in and out of its house. For the last five years or so he’s been running bands that tend to have a slightly arch repertory concept: the pointed and airy West Coast jazz of the 1950s or the pains and pleasures of the infamous amateur rock band the Shaggs.

His new quartet, in its third month of weekly gigs at Puppets Jazz Bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn--three sets every Wednesday--has no concept in particular and uses more of his own compositions. Perhaps it’s more flexible as a result.

Mr. McNeil’s tone is soft and thin, sort of ribbonlike; he doesn’t use the trumpet for its ruckus potential, and he’s interested in even and elaborate melodic improvisation through moving harmony. The young tenor saxophone player in his band, Noah Preminger, works beautifully through chord changes, but he’s also interested in speed and sound: split-tones and big Ben Webster-like notes that are three-quarters air and one-quarter music. But they don’t settle into purely opposite roles. Mr. McNeil goes foggy and abstract at times, retaining a singing feeling.

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