The New Bop Album Credits
- Produced by Gerry Teekens
- Executive Producer: K. Hasselpflug
- Recorded: December 16, 1994
- Label: Criss Cross Jazz
- Record # 1106
- Darrell Grant, piano
- Scott Wendholdt, trumpet
- Seamus Blake, tenor & soprano sax
- Calvin Jones, bass
- Brian Blade, drums
Dreadlocked and possessed of sharp wit and keen intelligence, Darrell Grant has that special quality reserved for the born artist. How else to explain the mannerly two-year-old who at patiently and with obvious great interest through the long-ago Earl Grant concert with his parents that sparked an initial thirst for music? Born in hilly Pittsburgh, raised in mile high Denver, deeply grounded in music at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Miami, Darrell Grant's pedigree is music to the core of his being. Hearing him play and listening to him talk, one is struck by how the music seeps from every pore; how the thirst for musical knowledge has taken him to landscapes far and wide in search of the lost chord, and how his recorded legacy, which began so auspiciously with his Criss Cross debut Black Art (Criss 1087), continues with even larger doses of jazz truth on The New Bop.
The great quintet sound of hard bop ("I love the term hard bop") was the stimulus for The New Bop. For Grant, that pantheon encompasses the classic: Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown-Max Roach, Horace Silver, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and the more recent: The Heath Brothers, and Wynton Marsalis. "Their music, performances, and spirit are the heritage that inspired this recording. I have been moved and my musical identity has been shaped by this legacy," enthuses Grant. "The most essential group for me was probably Horace Silver's Quintet. I was totally into that music." The inspiration for these tunes and the approach to this music comes from the Silver legacy of bebop, blues, and the spiritual vibration, infused with the deeply ingrained spirit of the African Diaspora. "To me the quintet thing is about the writing and really making a coherent sound that everybody has a part of, everybody plays an integral part in the music." The New Bop is a decidedly more involved date than its predecessor, particularly in the obvious investment Grant has made in composition and arrangement: "The tunes and the arrangements are much more involved, " he suggests rather emphatically.
It was Grant's intention to write an album and develop a sound that came directly from his compositional input as well as the care and feeding of music derived from outside sources. In this manner, he hoped to craft a quintet sound that would turn its participants into a true band. Thus the success of this recording date is borne out not only in the spirited playing but also in the high level of interplay and communication among the players.
Grant took great care in choosing his mates for this date. "Brian Blade is my favorite drummer, he's sensitive and he plays with all kinds of drive and musicality. Calvin Jones was my roommate for three years, so he knew all my music and we played together with Craig Harris, Greg Osby… every kind of situation. We've built a really personal connection over the past three years. This is some of my best music, and I wanted someone who could really anchor it, from a place of really knowing it," says the leader.
The horns were chosen with equal care and attention to every musical detail on the canvas. "Scott Wendholdt is one of the most underrated trumpet players around. Scott has the kind of energy that Freddie Hubbard plays with, this kind of ebullience and crackle. Seamus Blake is just another really amazing talent. He has so many sounds on this record, so many colors in his one individual and I really like that. "Interestingly both Wendholdt (a regular member of altoist Vincent Herring's quintet) and Blake are fellow Criss Cross labelmates of Grant, while Blade, who regularly drums with Joshua Redman is an auspicious holdover from the Black Art date. Together they aptly capture that elusive hard bop sound, spirits of Silver and Blakey firmly in tow, but for certain charting a distinctly 90's course with at ageless and classic quintet sound. Right from the jump the title track leaps out with the joy of cooking reserved for working ensembles.
Equal care went into crafting the music for this album, largely from the skillful pen of its leader, with three notable exceptions; significantly all from the books of pianists. George Cables is represented by his hauntingly gorgeous piece “Lullaby,” a tune that served as sort of invocation for the numerous duet concerts the pianists performed with Frank Morgan, later reprised by Grant when he occupied that role with ht altoist. Also represented are indelible chestnuts from Ellington, “Come Sunday,” and Monk, “Comin' On the Hudson.” As Darrell explains, "I've been playing ‘Come Sunday’ as a ballad for a long time. I wanted to bring out the soulful element and also the playful element in it. It starts in three then the middle sections goes into this kind New Orleans march thing. Then the vamp going out is almost like a gospel feel."
Grant whose pianistics bear the influence of Monk, as do that of practically the entirety of jazz pianism sing the late 50's, saluted the master with one of his lesser played but no less rewarding contributions. "I always heard ‘Comin' on the Hudson’ as a really beautiful melody, and I really wanted to bring out the impressionistic elements in it. That's why it starts out with the whole impressionist introduction, which is kind of like a boat coming down the Hudson in the fog. And then to just play it in such a way that brings out the lyricism in the tune, because I really hear that in there. "
The eight originals lend themselves beautifully to the overall neo hard boppin' quintet philosophy. “The Blues We Ain't No More,” “Struttin to Tangiers,” and the essential element suite, “Water Dreams” were specifically crafted for this record date and this instrumental setting. "Water Dreams" just kind of evolved on the date. I always like to do a solo piano piece; it's just a lot of freedom. The first part ‘Beach’ is really a prelude. Part two of the suite, ‘Three Views,’ is Grant's variation on “How Deep is the Ocean.” I sat down and I played 'How Deep is the Ocean' and wanted to just re-harmonize that. It's funny, when I was listening to it and thinking about the title to that piece, I love water and I've always and an affinity for it. I was just thinking how water is an element that unites us, our bodies are like 98% water and water makes up most of the earth, but it also separates us!"
The third part of the suite, “Agua Profunda,” bears the stamp of cross-cultural exploration derived from the mother source. "Agua Profunda" has a Cuban influence. I wrote that when I was in France. I was hanging out with a Cuban pianist named Alfredo Reioriguez, and we were just talking about the commonality of African music. Some of it dispersed south to the islands, to Cuba, and some it dispersed north, up to New Orleans, but basically Latin music and jazz are sons and daughters of the same mother, coming for African music. That music is very much our heritage, so "Agua Profunda" is really like addressing that, the deep water that separates us from this part of our heritage, and also the great mythology of the deep ocean and the mystery and power it. '
There's a goodly share of mystery inherent in the deep grooves of The New Bop, yet the simplicity and hard swing of skilled musicians, in tune with each other and the muse is an unmistakable element. Darrell Grant is turning out to be truly a jazzman for all seasons: MVP sideman, versatile explorer, sensitive bandleader, distinctive composer…. Chapter Two of Darrell Grant's recorded story is upon us, and as they say "it’s all good."
Willard Jenkins Washington D.C., October 1995 JazzTimes Magazine, Open Sky