Thursday, June 2, 2011

Eddie Mendenhall Makes A Splash With His "Cosine Meets Tangent"

Any jazz ensemble with a lineup of piano-vibes-bass and drums invites com- parisons and gets a sound right off the bat that reverberates with the history of the music. Of course there was the MJQ, the Bobby Hutcherson Blue Notes with that configuration, and a number of others. The instrumentation lends itself to harmonically intricate voicings, a lighter swing, a special chiming resonance. So when I pulled young pianist Eddie Mendenhall's CD out of its mailer, I had some expectations, like it or not.

Cosine Meets Tangent (Miles High 8614) lives up to those expectations. It exceeds them and also stymies them, which can only be good. I always kick myself in the head when I accidentally read the press releases too closely. I don't want to be unduly influenced. But I inadvertently looked down and read a quote from vibist Mark Sherman, saying that Eddie "captures a great mix of Bobby Timmons, Red Garland, and early McCoy Tyner." Hmm... The Bobby Timmons influence is there I suppose, and Red without the block chords exactly the way Red did them, and McCoy with that very lubricated right-hand line invention, yes. Well, I don't disagree with that, so no harm in quoting it!

This is an album that sometimes has a little of the coolness that the piano-vibes quartet can project, but it also swings hard, much harder than MJQ was apt to do. It has heat, too. To backtrack though, the people in this quartet: Mendenhall on piano of course, Mark Sherman on vibes, as we hinted at above, John Schifflett on bass, and Akira Tana on drums. That turns out to be a very attractive combination. They do an all originals set (except there's one Rogers and Hart standard). One of the originals is by vibist Mark, the other eight are by Eddie M. They are in a charming sort of hard-swinging sophisticated harmonic-melodic bag typical of some cats circa 1959-64 or so. There's nothing wrong with that if done well, and done well is what they do! Besides which I can't think of anybody getting this much mileage out of this style in years.

Eddie M. is a fine late-bop pianist with a full set of ears and the ability to craft some beautiful comp-and-line solos. Mark Sherman matches up very well with Eddie as the second solo and ensemble voice. There's Bag-to-Hutch in there and he knows just what to do, phrases beautifully, and can swing heavily when needed. The rhythm section is admirable. Akira Tana we know can do this sort of thing with his eyes closed, but John Schifflett, whom I do not know much about, sounds great as well.

I love this one. The only thing missing? Trane from the Bags and Trane era. OK so they can add a hip tenor next time if they want. This one does just fine without that. Get it and feel some of the joy that is absolutely there!

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