For Search For Peace, saxophonist Steve Heckman’s latest album, he has resurrected the quintet team from his 2013 disc, Born To Be Blue, this time for a compact set filled primarily with compositions by some of the great jazz artists. Guitarist Howard Alden is back joining with Matt Clark on Hammond B-3 organ, Marcus Shelby on bass, and Akira Tana on drums for an energetic exploration of tunes by Thelonious Monk, Grant Green, and John Coltrane among others. The quintet is a team of professionals who know their way around a tune. They know the sound they are after, and they make sure they get it. This is not jazz on the edge; this is a mainstream sound, one that will have you bopping right along with the music.
The album opens with a jumping Calypso piece by Blue Mitchell, “Fungii Mama.” Whether the title is some sort of mushroom reference (and what it might mean if it is), I can’t tell you. From Heckman’s liner notes, it seems he can’t either. Nonetheless, it is an infectious beginning for the album and an accurate forecast of what is to come. Guitar hero Grant Green’s “Grantstand” gives the quintet an opportunity to explode and they take it with gusto.
The album’s title song by piano great McCoy Tyner is a soul stirring ballad that shows Heckman in a quiet mode. Indeed he has a way with a ballad that evokes some of his best work. Later in the set, he puts down his tenor and picks up the baritone sax for a darkly sensitive reading of “Autumn in New York,” the one song from the Great American Songbook on the album. Monk’s gorgeous “Pannonica” (played by the composer on the celeste on his Brilliant Corners album) gets a very accessible interpretation from the quintet.
“Hi-Fly,” by pianist Randy Weston, has Heckman playing baritone sax once again in a high-octane samba arrangement of the piece. “Hangin’ at Slugs” is a Heckman original he describes as “an altered minor blues, with a definitively funky attitude.” An attitude that comes through in Alden’s guitar and Clark’s organ. They swing their way through Sonny Clark’s “Melody for C.” The set ends with the quintet driving through the complexities of John Coltrane’s “Spiral.”
Variety, soul, up-tempo bop—Search For Peace has it all, and has it played with joy and sensitivity by some top notch talent.