West Meets East with Adam Shulman’s Septet

There is a real energy about the album West Meets East from the Adam Shulman Septet, and that energy is firmly rooted in the legacy of the golden age of jazz. Adam Shulman wrote seven of the eight tracks that feature on the album (track five was written by Lennie Niehaus):

1. Nickel and Dimed, 2, Manne-Splainin’, 3. Lean and Mean, 4. Mingus Dream of Billy Strayhorn, 5. Whose Blues, 6. Jack’s Basket, 7. Heart of Winter, 8. Central Avenue Rundown

The front line is impressive with Joe Magnarelli on trumpet; Steve Davis plays trombone, Ian Hendrickson-Smith blows alto saxophone while Stephen Riley does the same on tenor sax. The rhythm section of pianist Adam Shulman, bass player David Wong and drummer Rodney Green are equally impressive.

The album is put together like a well thought out set list and opens with the wonderful ‘Nickel and Dimed’ and its clear nod to ‘Pennies from Heaven’. Joe Magnarelli’s trumpet is bright and joyful, and this picked up by the playing of Adam Shulman at the piano. ‘Manne-Splainin’’ pays homage to the great drummer Shelly Manne while also recognizing that wonderful George Shearing tune ‘Lullaby of Broadway’. The horns are terrific on this number and I particularly enjoy the breathy quality of Stephen Riley’s tenor playing.

Tracks three and four have a big band sensibility about them. ‘Lean and Mean’ has a wonderful melodic line that is a joy to follow as each of the horn players picks up the tune as they work through the number. ‘Mingus Dreams of Billy Strayhorn’ is the standout track of the album for me with its ‘Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love’ referenced melody and relaxed playing style that gives the tune space to breathe.

‘Whose Blues’ picks up the tempo and allows drummer Rodney Green to trade phrases with the horn section. This is an energetic track that put a smile on my face and clearly emphasised the quality of the playing from this septet. ‘Jacks Basket’ gives another opportunity to hear traded phrasing but this time between the two sax players and then between the trumpet and trombone with terrific support from the rhythm section.

‘Heart of Winter’ is a beautiful ballad played with a full-bodied tone. Trombonist Steve Davis plays a gorgeous solo on this number and Adam Shulman’s touch on the piano is particularly enjoyable. West Meets East rounds out with ‘Central Avenue Rundown’, an up-tempo bop number where the players get to take their final opportunity to solo and emphasise just how good a septet this group really is.

At a time when veneration for jazz music’s bygone days seems to have become passé, Shulman and his blue-chip ensemble make no bones about their desire to use the best elements of the tradition to enlighten their own creative forays. The results are fresh testimony that everything old is new again.

C. Andrew Hovan in album liner notes

West Meets East is a terrific album that pays its respects to the jazz legacy with well-written new tunes. This is an excellent reminder of just how good that mid-century age of jazz was, and Adam Shulman achieves this by using first rate players who know how to put a good melody across to their audience.

West Meets East is available on the Cellar Music record label via Bandcamp.

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