by Phil Freeman
Hush Point is a new quartet featuring trumpeter John McNeil, saxophonist Jeremy Udden, bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. Their self-titled debut album came out last month on Sunnyside. (Buy it from Amazon.)
Hush Point (the album) is an extremely refreshing listen, within the context of contemporary New York jazz. It’s quite subdued music, on the surface; Sperrazza plays with brushes throughout, Kobrinsky’s bass sound is thick and soothing, reminiscent of Milt Hinton, and the tempos are medium to ballad. But McNeil and Udden are doing some pretty adventurous stuff on top of that steady rhythm bed.
The album begins with “Iranic,” a slightly Middle Eastern melody that quickly gives way to a lengthy, but mellow, solo from Udden; when McNeil re-enters at the two-minute mark, Kobrinsky and Sperrazza begin a series of mini-solos, in between short melodic phrases from both horns. Structurally and in its general mood, the piece is reminiscent of Ornette Coleman‘s “Focus on Sanity,” albeit even more subtle and gentle. “Peachful” starts off with a bluesy, almost New Orleans melody (though not nearly as corny as most New Orleans jazz) but gradually, patiently builds to some almost avant-garde interactions between the horns, before bringing it all back down to earth in a smooth resolution that feels perfectly timed and arranged. “Fathers and Sons” has the feel of Ornette in ballad mode, Udden wandering around melodically like he’s just singing a song to himself as he walks through an empty house, and when McNeil rejoins him, they play harmoniously in a way that recalls pieces like “Peace” or “Some Other” (from the too-little-heard To Whom Who Keeps a Record).
But to overemphasize the small touches that recall Ornette Coleman‘s work (or John Zorn‘s Masada quartet, in the case of “Finely Done”) is to mischaracterize the true nature of Hush Point (band, and album). What’s most exciting about this album is the way these four players blend avant/free approaches to melody and interplay with techniques that go back to jazz’s earliest days—there’s an almost Dixieland feel to “B. Remembered,” and “Cat Magnet” is a strutting, finger-snapping blues, something that feels shockingly rare in a time when many young, critically hailed jazz musicians seem wholly allergic to the blues, or to any melody that doesn’t shove exactly how long they spent practicing at college in your face. Half the time, the members of Hush Point don’t even seem like they’re playing for a listener; with its gentle, unobtrusive drums, throbbingly human bass, and whispering, breathy horn lines, the album can make you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation.
Stream “Bar Talk”: