Blues Cruise

Chris Cheek

Blues Cruise

Fresh Sound New Talent

Chris Cheek (ts, ss), Brad Mehldau (p, Fender Rhodes), Larry Grenadier (b), Jorge Rossy (d)

Reference: FSNT-235

Bar code: 8427328422352

On his fourth CD for Fresh Sound New Talent, Chris Cheek is endorsed by the original Brad Mehldau quartet. Blues Cruise is an incredible showcase for the powerful, tasteful playing, and compositional talents of Chris. A relaxed cruise through the mainstream, sophisticated sounds and melodic lines that emerge from the masterful artistry of this wonderful musicians.

01. Flamingo (Grouya-Anderson) 5:23
02. Low Key Lightly (Ellington) 6:36
03. Coo (Cheek) 6:49
04. Squirrelling (Cheek) 5:42
05. Song of India (Korsakov) 3:47
06. Falling (Cheek) 6:19
07. Blues Cruise (Cheek) 7:43
08. John Denver (Cheek) 6:05
09. The Sweatheart Tree (Mancini) 5:08

Chris Cheek (tenor & soprano saxs); Brad Mehldau (piano, Fender Rhodes); Larry Grenadier (bass); Jorge Rossy (drums).
Recorded by James Farber at Avatar Studios, New York City, March 16 & 17, 2005

Produced by Chris Cheek

Executive producer: Jordi Pujol


"Even though he has turned in one stunning performance after another on albums by Paul Motians Electric Bebop Band, Charlie Hadens Liberation Music Orchestra, Guillermo Kleins Los Gauchos and various lesser-known, though equally interesting ensembles, Chris Cheek is still a lurker.

Your only good chance of seeing this reedman live is in New York or on the other side of the pond, where he makes frequent tours. The problem has nothing to do with Cheeks playing. Its the game: labels, distributors, publicists, writiers, editors. Nevertheless, Blues Cruise did get to me by some freakish fluke, and Ive gotten to savor its pleasing variety of textures and styles.

The erstwhile Brad Mehldau Trio is the backing band on Blues Cruise. Cheek couldnt have asked for a more empathetic and sensitive rhythm team for this program, which ranges from the calypso-tinged Flamingo to the soft Rhodes-laden bossa-tango Coo and the folk rock-informed John Denver, which actually sounds like a convincing jazz version of what would otherwise be a rock song with electric guitars and bass.

The title of this release would seem to imply that the tunes center around the blues, but they dont, really. Some have a bluesy flavor. But it seems to be more about the journey. The soprano ballads have a searching quality, while the tenor romps are more declaratory.

The saxophonists rich tone is the most notable constant throughout the record. It has a richness and flavor that's akin to a fine wine or cigar. The vivacity and frolicking quality of Cheeks breathy tenor owe much to the influence of Sonny Rollins, while his rhythmic flair draws equally from Eddie Harris. Comparisons to Chris Potter and Donny McCaslin also come to mind, but without all the shrieking and pyrotechnics.

This record is a testament to the fact that no matter how far any player may be from the media limelightand consequently the public consciousnessa great soloist coupled with a terrific backing band can make for some of the freshest music youve ever heard."

Matt Merewitz -All About Jazz

"Tras la ambición en formato, composición y alcance del toque de A Girl Called Joe, los siguientes discos de Chris Cheek parecen haber cambiado de escala, como si el saxofonista quisiera retirarse a la improvisación dentro de un grupo de músicos muy afines, desenterrar buenos temas poco interpretados y componer alguno nuevo. Pero esta visión es sólo parcial porque Cheek ha ganado enormemente en sonido, tanto como para musitar como hacía Stan Getz, the sound, the beautiful sound. El resto puede reclamar una consideración menor sino fuese porque el saxofonista cuenta con uno de los más afinados equipos en su acompañamiento: el trío de Brad Mehldau. Hay en Cheek una cualidad de abandonarse placentero a su exquisitamente torneado sonido, a la paz de sus líneas enunciadas con espacio y riqueza de matices y al paso lento que pone de manifiesto la sabia estructura de sus interpretaciones, que absorben al oyente y dilatan el sentido de los temas. Hay momentos de este Blues Cruise, como en un untuoso Low Key Lightly de Ellington o Song for India, de Rimsky-Korsakov, en los que el tiempo se detiene en la contemplación. De las piezas de Cheek, las hay de suave dramatismo, como Falling, aquellas cuyo desenvuelto melodismo no desencajarían en A Girl Called Joe, como Squirrelling y John Denver, y el material blues que le da título al álbum. Pero es en baladismo donde deja sin aliento, y se trate de la pieza ellingtoniana ya citada o en The Sweetheart Tree de Mancini, de preciosa coda, que cierra el álbum. Unas palabras para Mehldau, con un elegante solo en Low Key Lightly. Un álbum al que abandonarse y detenerse mil y una veces."

Ángel Gómez Aparicio

"Saxophonist Chris Cheek is such a hardworking New York sideman that its understandable that he hasn't been recording prolifically as a leader. Still, his last CD, Vine, appeared in 1999, so his new quartet set, Blues Cruise, is his first release in six years.The long hiatus certainly seems not to have produced any sense of anxiety or hurry, however. If Blues Cruise stands out from the current crop of recordings from the NYC saxophone crowd, its due to its lack of urgency.

And in its sense of tradition, its startlingly uniconoclastic. Cheek plays tenor, alto and soprano saxophones here, joined by Brad Mehldau (piano and Fender Rhodes), Larry Grenadier (bass) and longtime Cheek collaborator Jorge Rossy (drums). The title is perfectly descriptive: the nine tunes (five by the leader) are mostly variations on blues structures, and if they dont all cruise, neither do they gallop or scurry. This is very much a traditional jazz session, and it isnt about grand gestures. Its about creating an atmosphere where the small gestures count.

The question here is whether they do. The album starts with the Ted Grouya/Edmund Anderson standard Flamingo, which is lightly fuelled by an almost bossa nova rhythm thats deftly uptempo and simultaneously unedgy to the point of blandness. Mehldau turns in a block chord-peppered piano solo thats awfully good, but the group performance as a wholeas on a good number of the pieces herefades from the listeners consciousness alarmingly quickly after its final notes pass. The Cheek original Coo isnt very interesting, either, with a minor-key descending theme that bears a substantial resemblance to Nuages. Grenadiers bass lassos rather neatly around Mehldaus Fender Rhodes solo here, and Cheeks succeeding solo does shoot some sparks into Rossys accompaniment, but the song is dull.

Squirrelling is very good, however. Its loping, bluesy 6/8 time maintains the old-school, after-hours atmosphere of the album, but injects a needed vim that lifts the song up into the realm of the engaging, and then somethe joie de vivre/doldrums meter finally skews towards the former extreme. Granted, this songs more uptempo than a lot of Blues Cruise, but theres more to it than thatboth the leader and Mehldau contribute joyously earthy solos here over Rossys relaxed cymbal swagger, and while theres no loss here of restraint or taste, theres not too much of those qualities here either.

The title track, a Cheek-composed alto/Rhodes feature with a nicely charged atmosphere, is a winner as well. Rossys measured 4/4 pulse carries the slightest touch of foreboding, and its fun to hear Mehldaus light touch on Rhodes, in both his comping around Cheeks fantastic alto break and his own sighing solo.

If Cheeks recording output as a frontman was greater, Blues Cruise wouldnt seem so disappointing. Certainly, its good tracks are very good indeed. If they werent outnumbered by the dull ones, the albums airy, blowing-session blues would be downright refreshing."

Paul Olson -All About Jazz

"Cheek Fans Confounded, "Why Isn't This Guy HUGE?!"

Many jazz bloggers have listed Chris Cheek's Blues Cruise in their Top Ten of 2005. This reviewer raises it to Top Five. There is absolutely no good reason why Chris Cheek isn't better known, particularly when you consider his backing band for the last two records is the Brad Mehldau Trio. That's right: Mehldau backs-up Cheek.

Cheek grew up playing sax in St. Louis, graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston, and went on to become a young lion on the 1990s New York City scene. He's played a supporting role in more than 50 recordings. He contributed significantly to Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band, Argentiniean composer Guillermo Klein's Los Guachos, Kurt Rosenwinkle, Seamus Blake's Bloomdaddies, Stephan Crump, Jen Chapin, and pianist David Berkman's Communication Theory. Blues Cruise is Cheek's fourth recording as leader. Fans who "discovered" Cheek through his involvement with Paul Motian have been buying anything he touches since, sight unseen.

Chris Cheek's tenor sax tone is at once advanced and accessible; no small feat in a world where even many jazz fans believe everything's been done. He's no slouch on the alto and soprano saxes either. His vibrato is pervasive, but subtle and expertly controlled. Fans rave about Cheek's profound musical understanding: he selects just the right notes, arranged in efficient phrases, with a deep, lyrical voicing. Cheek composed five of these nine songs, and you'll hear them overshadow the standards. His jazz conception draws upon elements of swing, blues, folk, country, Spanish, Brazilian, and Western classical music.

The CD booklet is happily devoid of Mehldau's ubiquitous diatribe, but there are unfortunately no liner notes whatsoever. Fine artists often cringe when asked to explain themselves, but it would be nice to have a little something to read. Listeners will have to draw their own conclusions when it comes to compositional context. No problem.

Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau has earned considerable street-credibility with the iTunes kids, thanks to his Radiohead and Beatles covers, exclusive downloads, and streaming music videos. The alt-rock influence is noticeable in Mehldau's Fender Rhodes experimentation, particularly on the title track.

The set starts out swinging. "Flamingo" is best known as an Ellington standard, but other bands have kept it popular, including Gene Krupa's orchestra, Jimmie Lunceford, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and Benny Carter. Incidentally, R&B altoist Earl Bostic's version appears on the Honkin' and Screamin' Saxophone compilation and the Rolling Stones' own Artist's Choice CD. Cheek's version of "Flamingo" neither honks nor screams, but is stunning in its own way. "Low Key Lightly" is another beautiful Ellington tune with a relaxed tempo. Cheek's "Coo" is sweet and somewhat reminiscent of Ornette Coleman at his most coherent. Mehldau has switched to Fender Rhodes, imbuing the track with a great new-meets-old vibe, ala Miles' Filles de Killemanjaro. "Squirrelling" is an upbeat and uplifting romp that really, really works. There is no doubt these four men operate like an elegantly engineered machine.

Cheek also covers "Song of India" which was one of Tommy Dorsey's famous V-Discs during World War II, and originally part of Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's 1898 opera, Sadko. The song begins with a high and lonesome cry on soprano sax which eventually locks into an exquisite rhythm. A Columbia University Press encyclopedia praises Rimsky-Korsakov's "romantic exoticism and mastery of orchestral color." The same could be said about Chris Cheek.

On "Falling" the trio sets Cheek's solo over a hypnotic Afro-cuban pulse. Cheek's compositions are like dark chocolate or smooth Scotch: complex and delicious. "Blues Cruise" is a slow brushed-snare shuffle which showcases each musician's improvisational abilities. Only true experts can play this well, this slow. The song "John Denver" is as energetic, youthful, and sincere as its namesake. On an album mostly comprised of relaxed ballads, drummer Jorge Rossy finally gets to stretch out a bit, and Larry Grenadier's bass solo will blow your mind. "Sweetheart Tree" is a Henry Mancini soundtrack to the 1965 film "The Great Race." The original song featured cheesy lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Cheek knows a good song when he hears it, even if people have typically derided it as easy-listening or lounge music. His cover is sentimental but not sappy. In this way, and so many others, Cheek succeeds marvelously where many musicians have failed.

Blues Cruise was recorded by James Farber at the majestic Avatar Studios in Manhattan. Farber is the multiple Grammy-award-winning engineer revered for his work with Dave Holland, Joe Lovano, Brad Mehldau, Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman, Stanley Jordan, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, James Taylor, and many others. The entire project was recorded live to 2-track, which means everyone had to nail it on the same take; no overdubs, no cut-and-paste later. Isn't that the way jazz should be?

Thanks again to Jordi Pujol of Fresh Sound New Talent Records for taking upon himself the task of documenting essential musicians like Chris Cheek! To think that Cheek and others like him continue to fall through the cracks of major representation is troubling indeed. FSNT may lack mass marketing and name recognition, but they spend money where it's most important: producing top-notch recordings of essential music. In our global marketplace, even Pujol's Spanish label is only a few clicks away.

Call it what you want: 5 stars, two thumbs up, desert island discbut Blues Cruise is undoubtedly one the year's best releases."

-David Seymour is a jazz journalist in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Cheeks Blues Cruise finds him partnered with the former Fresh Sound-New Talent label house band: Jorge Rossy (drums), Brad Mehldau (piano) and Larry Grenadier (bass). Cheek is a capable leader, steering the crew through a set of originals and well-chosen standards, the latter including Ellingtons Low Key Lightly, Mancinis The Sweetheart Tree and a jazz treatment of Korsakovs Song of India. Cheek expresses himself in long musical sentences, punctuated with just the right word, phrase or clause; while partaking of melodic materials well-grounded in the mainstream, he never lapses into clichés and remains his own man. Mehldau, while not the most swinging of accompanists, is prone to excursions onto intriguing side-paths. With the capable hands and feet of Rossy and Grenadier along for the voyage, Blues Cruise is a fine entry to Cheeks catalogue.

Tom Greenland -All About Jazz


$12.04  (tax incl.)

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