That is precisely what happened when Winnipeg drummer/composer Curtis Nowosad called in teachers and fellow musicians, connected with the University of Manitoba, to produce this sparkling, varied, and engaging album that recalls the finest days of the Blue Note label and its classic recordings of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
They kick off with a bright reading of Wayne Shorter’s 1964 piece Speak no Evil, punctuated by Nowosad’s propulsive drumming and the harmonic pairing of trumpeter Derrick Gardner and Jimmy Greene on tenor sax.
Pianist Will Bonness leads the development into Empirically Speaking, the resonant bass Steve Kirby making the ballad breathe. It’s one of six originals by Nowosad that gives the album its familiar yet original sound: We know the format, we’ve heard the changes before, but the melodies are as fresh as the energy the musicians pour into the ensemble sound.
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Dialectics is a funky number, built over a six-tone scale and carried forward by the horn section, while 159 & St. Nick is the frenzy of New York City, with high-energy improv from the horns and the nimble pianism of pianist Bonness. There’s a blues, a waltz, and a lovely ballad called Reconciliation, its theme rendered by trumpeter Gardner; an afro-Cuban take on Monk’s Bye-Ya; and a respectful, hard- hitting if occasionally playful rendition of I Remember You.
This is the sound, texture, and spirit of that golden era alive and kicking today. Highly recommended.