Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt is on a regular schedule at this point: Every January, he puts out an album, like clockwork, and for the last five years, each one has been very different from the one before. In 2012, he brought his phenomenal acoustic quintet to an end with Soul (reviewed here); in 2013, he returned with the electric and expansive Water and Earth (reviewed here); in 2014, he continued exploring that approach on Face Forward, Jeremy (reviewed here); in 2015, he stood up to/in front of two drummers on the slamming powerhouse Tales, Musings and Other Reveries (reviewed here); and now, he’s gathered a longtime running partner and an all-star rhythm section for #jiveculture (get it from Amazon).
On this album, Pelt is joined by pianist Danny Grissett (a former member of his quintet with saxophonist JD Allen, the late bassist Dwayne Burno, and drummer Gerald Cleaver). Backing those two are drummer Billly Drummond, who was on Tales, Musings…, and legendary bassist Ron Carter. The album’s opening track, and its final four (of eight) are Pelt compositions; “Einbahnstrasse” was written by Carter, “Dream Dancing” by Cole Porter and “A Love Like Ours” by pianist Dave Grusin (with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, though nobody sings on this disc).
Things kick off with “Baswald’s Place,” a fast, three-and-a-half minute burner built around a classically hard bop melody that lets Pelt quickly vault into a rich, lyrical solo. Behind him, Drummond is the loudest element, smashing the kit as Grissett bides his time, waiting for a chance to deliver a fleet, swinging statement of his own. Carter is a perfect anchor point, walking emphatically but stepping out when necessary, to let Pelt and Drummond go at each other.
The bassist’s own composition begins with a call-and-response between the trumpet and the bass, setting up an old-school, showbizzy/bluesy tune, but that’s quickly detoured as Carter takes a lengthy, booming solo. When the rest of the band rejoins the action, the piece takes off in a surprisingly Wynton Marsalis-esque direction, with Pelt’s playing strongly hinting at the other man’s attempts to bring 1930s and 1940s-style blowing into the 21st Century. At the end of one of his phrases, Drummond rattles off a machine-gun snare roll that’s genuinely startling, but perfectly placed—it lights a fire under the band and keeps the energy level high until the piece’s final minute, when it returns to the call-and-response melody and Pelt takes it out with a coda phrase that would sound perfect ending a particularly ripping live set.
“Dream Dancing” and “A Love Like Ours” allow Pelt to bring his traditional side to the fore. The Porter piece has a loping, but patient groove reminiscent of Lee Morgan‘s Standards album—it’s something wedding guests could dance to in a movie. The Grusin ballad, meanwhile, nods in the direction of Miles Davis circa Seven Steps to Heaven.
The album’s second half builds on the strengths the group has displayed during the first four pieces. Drummond launches “The Haunting” with a 90-second drum fanfare that’s more of a statement of mood and purpose than a solo; it’s got an ominousness that brings to mind Elvin Jones‘s playing on John Coltrane‘s Crescent album. The piece itself has the darting abstraction of the Davis quintet of Nefertiti (on which Carter played, of course). On “Rhapsody,” Grissett creates a potent atmosphere with subtle insertions of Fender Rhodes, alongside the acoustic piano. On its surface, #jiveculture may seem like the most traditional Jeremy Pelt album of this decade, but a single listen reveals it’s every bit as adventurous, in its way, as his previous work. He’s on an extended journey, taking snapshots along the way, and jazz fans would do well to follow him.