Sophisticated Lady’s debut album for Yarlung Records is an elegant stew of tradition-based jazz infused with some modern spice, a tasty dish sure to please the most discerning of connoisseurs. Working through a studio set of original pieces and classics, all recorded in one take, the quartet clearly demonstrates there is life in tradition yet. Innovation doesn’t have to be far out, strange, outre. Such innovation can sound “go-o-o-od,” very good.
The quartet, which met at USC where they were pursuing master’s degrees, consists of pianist Misha Adair Bigos, J.J. Kirkpatrick on trumpet and flugelhorn, Andrew James Boyle on drums, and Gary Wicks on bass. They work together like the proverbial well-oiled machine. This is an ensemble to be reckoned with.
The original material includes two pieces by Boyle, “Gone” and “Green Eyed Monster,” a darkly moody gem. Wicks contributes “Night Night,” a melodic lullaby of sorts and “Weightless,” which the liner notes point out harkens back to the sound of early Miles Davis. Kirkpatrick makes the most of it.
Bigos adds a trio of tunes: “Ropes of Sand,” written while visiting his grandmother, it has something of a haunting exotic quality; “Finale” is a dramatic swinger which ironically comes in the middle of the album, and “Fields of Kurdistan” closes the album. It was written in honor of executive producer John Pruit. “For Andrew” is listed as a quartet free improvisation on a “melody kernel” by Andrew Norman.
The standards begin with a Wicks arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned,” the earliest piece played by the ensemble. There is also a Wicks arrangement of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan.” They do an inventive free improv on “Strange Fruit,” the protest ballad most often associated with Billie Holiday. And, of course, a quartet taking its name from the Ellington classic does not omit “Sophisticated Lady.”
Sophisticated Lady has put together a debut album that will be the envy of many a veteran jazz ensemble, and certainly a tonic for anyone with an ear for mainstream jazz. This is an album to be savored.
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