There’s something special going on among the four musicians in BANN that is very promising—something that makes me want to see the band live. I hope one of our local bookers picks up on them soon, so I don’t have to go to New York City to do so.
As You Like by BANN [Seamus Blake, tenor saxophone; Jay Anderson, acoustic bass; Oz Noy, guitar and electronics; Adam Nussbaum, drums]. Jazz Eyes CD (To be released February 15; advance copies offered at $10.99 via cdbaby.com; other sources should have the CD very soon).
By Steve Elman
Simple but glorious pleasures and, frankly, pretty rare: well-crafted music played by people who sound like they’re having a great time working together.
Every note of BANN’s first CD fairly drips with those satisfactions. The tunes are beautifully rehearsed, so there’s hardly a false step. Each player has a strong personal voice. And the band’s identity is greater than the sum of its parts. As an exemplar of contemporary jazz, this release is deeply enjoyable on first bite, and it draws me back to hear specific tracks again and again.
Quickly, I could characterize BANN as an electro-acoustic quartet of journeymen who’ve earned their various stripes playing with the cream of modern jazz people—John Scofield, Michael Brecker, Mike Maineri, Mike Stern, Dave Douglas, Brad Mehldau. But past performance is no guarantee of future results. There’s something special going on among these four musicians that is very promising—something that makes me want to see the band live. I hope one of our local bookers picks up on them soon so I don’t have to go to New York City to do so.
If you have only a few minutes to sample the CD, listen to the title track—supposedly a group composition but so nicely conceived that it seems the product of a single musical intelligence. Drummer Adam Nussbaum sets it up with one of those slippery, Elvin-Jones-ish 6/8s, and then Oz Noy lays down a funky little lick using his wah-wah pedal, with Jay Anderson doubling the bass line to add a very cozy warmth. On top comes Seamus Blake’s tenor, punching the lick forward with a string of perfectly-articulated jabs. Then Blake, post-Brecker and post-Shorter but hardly an imitator of either, rips into a beautifully constructed statement including a raft of arpeggios that truly swing. Noy’s guitar solo follows, with a whole chorus of wah-wah that never seems retro or camp, and then a bruising second chorus that gets some distance from the 6/8 without losing energy. Nussbaum gets a few measures over the guitar and bass, and then we’re back to the head.
The other tunes show equal measures of originality and respect for the tradition. Monk’s “Played Twice” is given an authoritative workout with a clever extra rest inserted in the line, keeping you guessing about where the band is going. Joe Henderson’s “Isotope” is completely re-imagined as an edgy, funky groove tune that opens up surprisingly for the solos; Nussbaum shows off his ingenuity as Blake and Noy work it, nudging the beat back and forth from open to swing time to funk.
“All The Things You Are” manages to smile and provoke at the same time—there’s plenty of contemporary fire in the arrangement and the solos, but the music always keeps its good humor. Anderson’s “Will Call” is frank in its admiration for Monk, but then it moves into an atonal conversation between Blake and Noy that powers into a kind of out Dixieland.
Noy’s “Minor Shuffle” is one of the catchiest tunes on the date, with some familiar chords in the bridge that make me think he may have chosen Cole Porter’s “I Love You” on which to construct a contrafact. A lighter moment comes with Anderson’s boozy, almost-cowboy tune called “At Sundown.” And the drummer, with his daughter Maia, provide a very lovely ballad entitled “Days of Old,” introduced by a sweet-as-sugar bass solo with perfect singing double-stops.
Do I need to hear David Crosby’s “Guinnevere” again? Well, maybe not, but BANN makes a pretty good case for it.
As a matter of fact, they make a good case for everything on this disc. If you like cutting-edge, modern guitar, Noy has the chops and the equipment to satisfy you; if you’d just as soon leave the electronics behind, he’s got the soul to surprise you. If you want to hear simply gorgeous bass playing, Jay Anderson’s your guy—I do wish they’d gotten a little warmer, woodier sound for him in the recording, but that’s a minor point. If you wish for a modern tenor saxophone player who doesn’t emphasize his treble quite so much, Seamus Blake will give you the tone you’re looking for and enthusiastic solos too. And if you want to hear one of the best drummers around, meaning one of the best drummers who plays all around his kit and all around the beat without ever losing control, Adam Nussbaum is the Man.
I like “As You Like.” Very much.