Saxist Scott Jeppesen's El Guapo commences in an interesting tension. He strikes up a laconic lead line against guitarist Larry Koonse's staccato guitar chords, maintaining a moody nervousness until the song breaks for extended improv and Jeppesen goes to town. Then Koonse takes over, still on nylon strung axe, and hits a sound somewhere between Pat Martino and Al DiMeola's world musics. CD Baby typifies the style here as 'Contemporary Jazz' but I strongly disagree. It's classic straight-ahead with contemporary influences, though, really, not a lot of the latter. This is the sound I was missing all those years I left off pursuing sax music because it had grown so damnably impotent.
Jeppesen, though, re-invests the instrument with the full-blooded vibrancy it lost in the Smooth Jazz Conversion, here missing nothing, as is seen when things slow down in a take on Richie Beirach's classic Elm, its autumnal narrative speaking in rich, mellow, but highly literate tones. It's easy to drift away to the cut, like reading a good short story. Ah, but then Odin's Great Raven rears up, and things get more boppy chaotic, John Daversa jumping in to first duet and then solo on trumpet as Josh Nelson (keyboards) slips sideways on piano, stretching the angularity. At times, Jeppesen even starts treading old Anthony Braxton territory, and perhaps that's what CD Baby heard, mistaking the ersatz neoclassicality as…contemporary? Naw! Someone slip those guys a copy of Pharoah Sanders or something.
There has been, thank God, a resurgence of this throaty and muscular but quite refined approach again, and El Guapo puts Scott Jeppesen among the vanguard. Everyone in this enterprise is spot-on. Scott takes his inspiration in a mighty threesome (Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, and Sonny Rollins), all of whom show clearly but you can't miss antecedents like Rusty Bryant, Hank Mobley, Dexter Gordon, and others. And I'd toss Dolphy and Klemmer in there as well. More, his writing is intensely solid, in the mode that emerged from the days of The Imperishable Ones (Mingus, Monk, Miles, Kirk, etc.), as creative and thought-provoking, not to mention just damned luxurious, as Wynton Marsalis' work. Hard to believe this is a debut, 'cause, had someone told me sight unseen that it was a prized old Blue Note gig, I wouldn't have doubted it for a second.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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