Jazz CD Reviews
Vinnie Cutro & New York City Soundscape – Sakura – Royal Music Ensemble Records
Published on April 10, 2009
Vinnie Cutro & New York City Soundscape – Sakura – Royal Music Ensemble Records RME72307, 60:14 ****:
(Vinnie Cutro – trumpet; Jerry Bergonzi – tenor saxophone; Billy Hart – drums; Jay Anderson – bass; Charles Blenzig – piano; Bob Ferrel – trombone on tracks 1 and 6; Mitch Schechter – piano on tracks 4 and 8)
On his fourth album as a leader, Big Apple trumpeter Vinnie Cutro reveals why he is one of the bright spots of the New York City jazz community. The ten tracks on Sakura display a command of straightforward, mainstream jazz with a post-bop demeanor. Working with a powerhouse group including tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, pianists Charles Blenzig and Mitch Schechter, trombonist Bob Ferrel, bassist Jay Anderson, and drummer Billy Hart, Cutro shows his interpretative skills on three jazz standards, his compositional aptitude on six vigorous originals, and his proficiency as a re-arranger, furnishing a vivid reading of an Asian folk song.
Cutro opens with his arrangement of the traditional Japanese folk tune, "Sakura," which has an eloquent, nearly theatrical one-minute introduction, at which point the ensemble shifts into a jumping groove, and Cutro flies high on a rapid-fire trumpet solo reminiscent of Freddie Hubbard. Bergonzi follows with a swinging solo, Ferrel strides in with a sharp trombone solo, and Blenzig takes the final solo, knocking out a rhythmically charming piano solo.
The second cut, Cutro’s "Three for Me," is a swaying waltz elevated by Bergonzi’s robust and catchy Coltrane-esque performance, which Cutro then matches with a solo that curves skyward with energy to burn. Blenzig then tosses up another choice keyboard presentation, demonstrating why the underrated pianist is a step above most working within the post-bop style. Jay Anderson has the concluding contribution with a confidently emotional bass solo.
The program’s first cover is the oft-recorded "Willow Weep for Me," which Cutro weaves into an engaging ballad. Cutro trims the group to a quartet, which allows him to translate the old stand-by into a wistful and quiet treatment, highlighted by several bluesy solos where Cutro glides effortlessly and spins out a wonderfully poised melody. The second interpretive piece is Eddie Harris’ famous hit "Freedom Jazz Dance," which the band presents in a nimble and groove-oriented fashion, imparting the zesty arrangement a slightly caustic but friendly designation. The album’s third standard is a late-night ruminative rendition of Thelonious Monk’s "’Round Midnight." Mitch Schechter arrays some gorgeous keyboard phrases, while Cutro unfurls his confidential efficacy on an expansive trumpet exhibit. From beginning to end, drummer Billy Hart and Anderson continually keep the placid rhythm moving with a steady, slowly lilting transit.
Two of the record’s finest accomplishments are Cutro’s "Blues for Roy" and "Time Will Tell." "Blues for Roy" is a fast-paced main attraction where the musicians let everything soar. First up, Blenzig takes a turn on the keys with a deft solo that proceeds through some remarkable changes and directions. Bergonzi then expresses an incendiary verve on sax. Anderson lays down fearless walking bass lines behind Hart’s spirited toms and rolling cymbals. Hart’s animated polyrhythmic solo attests to the sideman’s flexible talents, proving why he’s been an invaluable associate to Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, and McCoy Tyner, to name just three. Cutro responds to the other players’ challenge with breakneck and lofty musicianship.
The closing piece, "Time Will Tell," is marked by an incessant, incipient melodic line, which is conveyed throughout the number by Anderson’s bass and Blenzig’s sympathetic piano. Hart tethers a fixed rhythmic framework that permits the two horns to progress with harmonic agreement, effecting their segments with an imperturbable and casual-seeming potency. Cutro’s muted horn gives the tune a markedly retrospective perception, which is echoed by Blenzig’s contemplative chords and unruffled flourishes.
On Sakura, Vinnie Cutro shows he can write and organize distinguished, memorable material with an ageless precision and at the same time has the temperament and expertise to bring together and direct a band of consummate musicians. Hopefully this convincing and well-recorded offering grants Cutro the high regard he merits.
2. Three for Me
3. What Is This Thing?
4. Willow Weep for Me
5. Tell Tale
6. Freedom Jazz Dance
7. Blues for Roy
8. Round Midnight
9. Big Chief
10. Time Will Tell
– Doug Simpson