Chicago Sessions has done it again, this time featuring a group of stellar up-and-coming young Chicago jazz artists led by guitarist Koppel. The line up is exceptional, with saxophonists Greg Ward (alto) and Geof Bradfield (tenor) making up a dream front line, and drummer Robert Tucker and bassist Graham Czach providing a solid rhythm section. I've been singing secret weapon pianist Matt Nelson's praises for years now, especially for his fine work with saxophonist Shawn Maxwell, and this recording will hopefully be a breakthrough to help bring this extremely talented young man to the attention of Chicago and the world.
With such a strong supporting cast, Koppel lets these wonderful soloists shine while putting much of his attention toward the songwriting and the results are excellent. Not to say Koppel's guitar work isn't compelling: it is indeed, but he allows everyone to share in spotlight. Opener "The Big Tease" moves through a plethora of changes that are almost impossible to describe (Koppel admits to Dave Holland and Avishai Cohen as influences), but which will satisfy the discerning listener upon repeated listens. The saxes sparkle and write down the name: Matt Nelson is quite simply a star on the rise.
Koppel and Czach (another Maxwell combo member in previous times) both play addictive solos on "Ten Year Reverie," but it is Nelson again melting the keys like butter on the keyboards that brings the gasps (credit must be given Tucker for his nice support on this tune). "Electric Cowgirl Boogaloo" follows, and in a welcome surprise more than lives up to its name with its intricate patterns and sense of humor (check out the middle section that morphs into a swinging straight ahead number out of a Czach bass solo). Koppel's songwriting is impressive, mature yet fresh, versed in tradition, but new. And the band members construct these compositions with energy and care.
Much could be written about the rest of the album: the title tracks (the together one is smooth and sultry, while the apart one is jittery), "Toumani" (where Czach sounds like he brought along his Chicago Afrobeat Project bandmates), the lovely ballad "The Bad Decision," Koppel's expressive soloing on "Our Tribe," the old school swing of "Gidderfiddle Blues" and the unusual and engaging "Old Man New Tricks," but explanations do not do justice to the music and you would best served to pick up a copy (or subscribe to Nick Eipers' Chicago Sessions series) for yourself. Take the step to hear some of the best young players (and composer) the city has to offer, and let's hope we hear much more from Koppel and this praiseworthy bunch.