Thanks in large part to Lionel Hampton, vibes have become a unique and essential instrument in jazz. Former Chicagoan Jim Cooper continues that tradition in his recently reissued 1992 album Nutville, where he is joined by legendary multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan. Having performed with such artists as Barrett Deems and Paulinho Garcia, Cooper has developed into a veteran performer and Michigan-based educator. Nutville, recorded for Chicago's Delmark label, nicely showcases Cooper's versatility in performing everything from jazz standards to Latin rhythms to original compositions.
Listening track-by-track, one is impressed by Cooper's ability to play a variety of jazz styles. "Mija" seduces with its gentle Latin rhythms, with Cooper trading lines with Sullivan's tenor saxophone. But then he plays Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing" with equal adeptness, his vibes effectively capturing the melody. Dan Delorenzo's dizzying bass also deserves a mention, as he drives the rhythm and performs a soulful solo. Overall, Cooper and Delorenzo's lines perfectly complement each other.
Cooper clearly has an affinity for Brazilian tunes, as he deftly plays Ivan Lins's "Cantor Da Noite," with his vibes accentuating the gorgeous chord changes and wispy melody. Here pianist Bob Dogan takes his turn in the spotlight, his solo and background performances providing a sonic cushion for Cooper.
At the same time, Cooper can handle rapid tempo changes on modern pieces such as Dogan's "Sui Fumi," with Delorenzo, Dogan, Sullivan, and Cooper working closely together to quickly adapt to shifting tempos. Once again, Delorenzo impresses with his speedy playing and ability to play demanding lines with apparent ease. The pace then slows with a lovely version of "Autumn Nocturne," with Sullivan's tenor and soprano saxophone solos beautifully highlighting the melody. Both he and Cooper play intricate solos that lead to a crescendo toward the end.
Another Dogan composition, "Cabbie Patch," emphasizes Cooper and the band's bluesier side. In addition to Cooper's steady vibes, Sullivan's tenor sax adds an urban feel to the tune. Finally, the group tackles Dizzy Gillespie's "Tanga" with Sullivan displaying his impressive instrumental range. He perfectly captures Cuban rhythms with his trumpet lines, while adding samba whistle to the mix. Cooper plays in sync with Sullivan, eventually playing a rapid yet melodic solo.
Jim Cooper's Nutville serves as a welcome addition to Delmark's catalog, as it may attract more attention 18 years after its initial release. Any fan of jazz vibes should seek out Cooper's Nutville for a pleasant tour through various jazz forms.