Some mid-winter jazz
Steve Grover heats up again
Steve Grover’s newest [*This originally published in January of 2008], Between Now and After, has made its way into the public consciousness with a slow burn. It’s his fifth full-length as a bandleader/composer, his first since 2003’s Breath, and it continues his record of releasing supremely listenable and musically engaging collections of original work.
This time, he’s assembled a quintet, with Tim Sessions on trombone the voice you probably haven’t heard before. Well, unless you’re a little bit old-school — Sessions’s tenure in Maine lasted from 1981 through 1990 before he left for New York City, where he now finds himself as part of the orchestra accompanying The Producers on Broadway. His work with David Wells, on tenor sax, really drives the new release. Yes, both solo with the best of them throughout the disc, but it’s when they explore Grover’s frameworks in tandem that you get a real treat.
They seem to be the protagonists of “The Poets Agree,” where often when the two horns are playing together they’re split between the two channels so you can focus your attention appropriately. After initial introductory phrasings, like MCs trading warm-up riffs before a battle, they truly engage, sometimes mimicking, sometimes in call-and-response, sometimes seeming to have no knowledge of the other. There’s a lot to follow here in general, but don’t miss the drum break at about 3:00, snare and cymbal heavy, with some toms coming in as Grover works up a head of steam, finally going almost all cymbal before the rest of the band returns.
Grover also re-employs long-time collaborators Tony Gaboury on guitar (his Empathy features Grover and Grover’s compositions) and Chris Van Voorst Van Beest on bass (Van Beest taught with Grover at Augusta before leaving for NYC’s larger pastures). Van Beest is impossible to miss, with a never predictable bottom-end presence that sometimes takes over songs by default. His work on “Part Time,” for example, isn’t intimidating in its difficulty, but everything in the song feeds of his repeating six-note phrases that finish up, then down, up, then down, a spinning wheel of progress, understated like the movement of history. Overall, it’s probably the best tune here, with a noirish swagger, the two horns battling it out for who’s got the biggest gun, the sharpest crease in the pants, and the most beat-up fedora.
Gaboury’s presence is the subtlest on the disc. Often, you barely notice he’s there, especially since his tone might remind you of an organ player from time to time. But his chords usually make up a song’s melodic underpinning, and his solo on the appropriately titled “One for Tony” is free and easy, like a bachelor out on a walk on a spring morning, feeling his oats, with some excellent quick moves up and down the fretboard, but still not much volume, remaining low in the mix, with the bass sometimes seeming to stand on top of it, Grover’s high hat always prominent in the right channel. Make sure to listen here for the sax and trombone feeling their oats as well, mid-tune, popping out staccato hits like fists jabbing the air.
Of course, Gover is a lover, not a fighter. No matter how many knockout albums he puts together.