A pair of picks for jazz listeners: Easy Company by Jay Epstein with Bill Carrothers and Anthony Cox; and Thought Versus Emotion by Frankhouse. Both outfits comprise accomplished artists.
Back in the spring, Jay Epstein, a venerated workhorse who’s gigged with the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Toots Theilmans, and Barney Kessel, released an impressive disc. Recording with his band Framework, their self-titled CD launched at the renowned Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul. That lineup was Epstein (drums), Chris Bates (bass), and Chris Olsson (guitar), and Framework did well, drawing listeners, establishing an audience for the ensemble. So Epstein capitalized on said momentum, releasing Easy Company, following the trio’s debut Long Ago. This is Epstein with noted longtime associates Bill Carrothers (piano) and Anthony Cox (bass), doing 14 cuts, including Epstein originals “Pick,” “Sgt. Rock,” “Maus,” and “Giza,” plus covers of “Ida Lupino” by legendary pianist-composer Carla Bley and “White Room” (yes, Cream’s blues-rock anthem by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown).
It’s always a curiosity to see what jazzers do with tunes outside their genre. For instance, who’s ever going to forget Ramsey Lewis overhauling pop singer Doby Gray’s “The In Crowd” or Mongo Santamaria completely reworking “Grazing in the Grass” by one-hit wonders Friends of Distinction, rendering the catchy ditty a time-honored classic? Here, Epstein and cohorts give “White Room” a spacey, ethereal treatment no one could’ve seen coming. Barely hinting at the original melody, it affords everyone in the trio plenty of interpretive room in which to move and will have old-school jazz fans of cats like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and such perking up their ears. The rest of the album similarly is an exercise is airing extremely inventive, wildly unpredictable chops that defy convention with incredible ease.
Frankhouse’s tantalizing Thought Versus Emotion is a bit more down to earth, easier to follow, but still pretty freewheeling. Without the weird twists and turns, it’s a fairly streamlined flight into the world of sophisticated cool. Here again, the personnel’s pedigree is firmly intact.
Bandleader and chief composer Dan Frankowski (trumpet/flugelhorn) studied with Wynton Marsalis and Donald Byrd, soloed in a touring production of A Harlem Nutcracker, and enjoys a heavy rep among area axemen.
Karl Koopmann (guitarist, composer) cut his teeth at the Perpich Center for Arts Education, immersing himself in jazz, classical, and world music, then majored in jazz performance at Minnesota State University—Moorhead. He’s worked locally with, among other outfits, Terramara, Steeling Dan (a tribute to Steely Dan) and Story City (jazz-fusion highlighting material by Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker.
Shilad Sen (sax) went to Northwestern University, studying under world-renowned classical saxophonist Frederick L. Hemke and placed second in the 1996 North American Saxophone Alliance Collegiate Jazz Competition. He moonlights in local ensembles Snowblind and Ingo Bethke.
Graydon Peterson (bass) got his bachelor’s in composition from the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, where he was a member of the Down-Beat-award-winning UWEC Jazz Ensemble I. Away from Frankhouse, he’s a hired gun (Debbie Duncan, Christine Rosholt, Connie Evingson), a fixture at the annual Twin Cities Hot Summer Jazz Festival and a performer-composer on Reid Kennedy Trio’s smooth-to-a-T disc Reflections. Dave Stanoch (drums) is the ringer, a name-dropper’s delight, having performed with the likes of Bernard Purdie, Bonnie Raitt and Keb’ Mo’. A faculty member at McNally Smith College of Music, he’s also written an acclaimed method book, Mastering the Tables of Time.
Don’t let the title mislead you. Thought Versus Emotion, far from pitting the mind against the heart, has plenty of both intellect and feeling to go around. Sure, it’s a thinking fan’s music. You’re fascinated by the precision playing and cerebral signature that is jazz itself. You’re also moved by the passion with which these guys blow. As well, they, too, do a fine job covering well-known numbers, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want”.
In short, the avant garde Easy Company and sleek wizardry of Thought Versus Emotion are both keepers. To catch these artists in action, look up Jay Epstein at myspace.com/gonejazz and Frankhouse at myspace.com/frankhousemusic.