Jeremy Pelt – Soul ★★★★★

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Jeremy Pelt SoulHighNote

Jeremy Pelt (t, flhn), JD Allen (ts), Danny Grissett (p), Dwayne Burno (b), Gerald Cleaver (d), and Joanne Pascal (v). Rec. September 2011

In the 2011 Jazzwise critics poll listings (December/ January issue) both Roy Carr and this writer voted Jeremy Pelt’s The Talented Mr. Pelt as our choice for best album. Here comes the follow-up, the fourth by a band of musicians that has achieved a sound, an identity, a closeness and an honesty that, in today’s market, is quite an exceptional achievement. Soul, despite being very different, is arguably the quintet’s best yet.

It’s a brilliant, brave album, built around extended contemporary jazz ballads, several of which can only be described as brooding, plus a vocal track (a Sarah Vaughan-like version of a little-known Sammy Cahn song, ‘Moondrift’) and an 11-minute very ‘live’ grooving mid-tempo burnout blues, as a total contrast to the rest. With the exception of a 3/4 veined George Cables tune (‘Sweet Rita Suite Pt 2: Her Soul’) all the compositions are by Pelt himself. Each have a different kind of low-burning restrained intensity, which continues in his every-note-counts solos, all blues-inflected. There are equally moving contributions from every member of what appears to be a totally self-less ego-free band. JD Allen breathes as one with Jeremy and his achingly soulful solos are again notable for a tone the average tenor player would die for and a series of melodic ideas that fit the various moods to perfection.

Listen to him on ‘The Tempest’, for instance, backed by Cleaver’s rumbling drums. Grissett is, again, a major contributor to the group’s overall concept and particularly makes his mark on ‘The Ballad of Ichabod Crane’, Sleepy Hollow’s lovelorn school teacher, with a masterful blues-driven solo. The lengthy swinging 12-bar, ‘What’s Wrong is Right’ allows everyone to let their hair down after all the slow tempos, with Grissett laying out during the extended trumpet and tenor solos, before taking his own. This track gives us the chance to marvel at the completely irrepressible swing generated by Dwayne Burno’s gloriously un-politically correct driving bass combined with Cleaver’s beautifully busy, constantly creative drumming. The Joe Marciano-engineered Systems Two sound is a big improvement. So here is the group’s collective ‘Soul’. It would be foolish to deny that this isn’t a logical extension of what the Davis-Shorter group started, but this band for me is the most satisfying in jazz today. Long may they stay together and continue to grow.

– Tony Hall