Steve Grover Quintet: Between Now and After

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.

Grover-Between Now and AfterThis 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.

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.