Steve Grover Quintet Plus One: Statement

On the road again

Steve Grover makes a Statement

Everyone wants to be in Steve Grover’s band. Well, every massively talented jazz musician, anyway. I can’t imagine something more enjoyable than being set up to succeed in the way a musician is with one of Grover’s jazz compositions — given both exquisite structure and open-aired freedom.

grover statement coverOn his newest Statement [*this originally published in December of 2011], a nine-song, all-original work of instrumental jazz that sits somewhere in the Getz-Parker pocket, Grover has with him his quintet of Chris Van Voorst Van Beest on stand-up bass, Tony Gaboury on guitar, Trent Austin on trumpet, and David Wells on tenor sax. Plus, he adds Jason St. Pierre on alto sax for four tracks. The result is a record that’s genuinely in a different class than most of what you hear locally.

My personal favorite moments are when the saxophones get together in opposing channels, as on the opening “Changing Course” and the closing “Do What You Want” (one of two songs inspired by Jack Kerouac [*He’d explore Kerouac more later.]). Wells and St. Pierre are both subtle and dexterous in their playing, taking their instruments outside of the brute-force displays you so often see with saxophones and making them dance with each other. The flutter-out of their break in “Do What You Want” made me audibly gasp.

Van Voorst Van Beest has long been my favorite stand-up player. His solo in “Kindness Is All” is especially interesting, sitting in the mix underneath Grover’s high-hat beat like playing with kids in the rain. He also stands out on “An Aspect of Things,” where the horns are just locked into each other for a number of many-note runs that belie they idea that jazz is just a bunch of improvisational messing around.

Austin blows the doors off his trumpet solo in the title track, getting angry and aggressive, pushing his instrument into places it doesn’t necessarily want to go. It pops you right in the face. Gaboury’s guitar work is mostly pretty measured — he has an elegant tone that can sometimes sound like a keyboard — but I love the way he provides sonic foundation for the crispness of the horn players.

Then there is, of course, Grover, who rides herd over the whole album, a force even when he’s being quiet. “Limbo” is one of the bigger head-nodders he’s ever written, just swinging and downright funky at times (in a way that doesn’t scream, “hey, look at me! I’m funky!”). Sometimes just the way Grover rolls his brushes around the snare, like on the opening to “A Sad Song Is Playing,” is lyrical and telling.

As his eighth album, Statement shows Grover is still growing as a composer and still having a hell of a lot of fun. Let’s hope there are many statements like this to come.

The Steve Grover Quartet, featuring Brad Terry: Remember

How could we forget?

Grover and Terry remain timeless

grover-rememerIf you ever have the pleasure to meet Brad Terry [*This originally published in October of 2000], you’ll probably find him extolling the merits of the two Polish jazz prodigies he has living with him, or railing against cigarette ads in Time magazine. Either way, he’ll wind up laughing and poking you in the side until you crack up, too. It’s this infectious thrill for life that Steve Grover so expertly captures in the nine songs he has composed for Remember.

With his sunny outlook, and years of wisdom, Terry’s clarinet is not the flashy, rapid-fire display of a Benny Goodman. Rather it is a supple, pure tone, with smooth runs up and down the scale like water falling over steps. The beautiful interplay between Terry’s clarinet and Grover-veteran Frank Carlberg’s piano on “The Seventh String,” alternately in sync then moving to a sort of call and response, is exquisite and an inspired use of the instruments. Throughout the disc, these musicians exude a warmth for and understanding of each other that controls the mood of the music. From the opening waltz, “Beginning Again,” where Terry’s languid breaks recall strolling through crowded Manhattan streets on a bright fall afternoon, to the drum breaks on “Blues for the Bridge” that bring to mind Grover’s optimistic version of the military drum roll, the theme is a constant exuberance meted with the wisdom of past struggles. Ironically, the most melancholy of the pieces, “Theresa Minor,” features a bass solo by the young Chris Van Voorst Van Beest, whose improvisation is hungry and searching in contrast to Grover’s sophisticated confidence.

With Remember, Steve Grover has crafted a very personal and very enjoyable album.