Emmet Cohen – Future Stride
(Mack Avenue MAC1181. CD Review by Leonard Weinreich)
It’s my guess that, at the moment little Emmet was born, his designated guardian angel was a clumsy klutz who slipped and accidentally showered the entire contents of his gift cupboard all over the bassinet. As a result, not only was baby Emmet fitted with a matched set of epic ears, ten obediently flexible fingers, faultless time and commanding swing, but also an appreciation of the past and abiding respect for the achievements of elders. And even a sympathetic bassist and drummer in attendance, close by his elbow.
I’m sticking to my guess because pianist Emmet Cohen‘s Future Stride is an unusual album by an unusual musician who disregards fashion’s strict dictates by embracing the total potential of jazz piano, technically and stylistically. Refreshingly, he dishes out well-earned dues to the glittering legacies of James P., Willie ‘The Lion’, Tatum, Hines, Wilson, Nat Cole, Buckner, Bud, Erroll, Monk, Garland, Herbie, Jarret and loads of other worthy pianists I’d unfortunately overlooked.
To support my hunch, listen to the opening track, Symphonic Wraps. While composers Stevens and Abrams are forgotten, the titanic musical encounter in 1928 between Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines on this very tune is indelibly marked on many memories. To celebrate the glorious event, Cohen’s trio produces a knuckle-busting tribute to Pops and Fatha with echoes of ragtime and wild times.
Then expect an abrupt disconnect between the 1920s and 2020. Tracks (2) Reflection At Dusk and (3) Toast To Lo are both composed by Cohen and augmented by guests Melissa Aldana on tenor Marquis Hill on trumpet. Reflection is drenched sidewalks, mean streets and bleak shadows, a readymade soundtrack for a downbeat TV series. The faster Toast (four-wheel drift car-chase material?) has Ms Aldana exercising supple tenor calisthenics preceding a high-energy burst of keyboard action from the leader.
Future Stride, the bluesy title track, is a V8 ride down jazz piano avenue, kicking off with stride, shifting to four-on-the-floor, a flurry of eight-to-the-bar boogie and a few blissful bars of locked hands channelling the under-appreciated Milt Buckner, before reprising the theme.
Block chords re-emerge on track 5 when Cohen, in the manner of Ms Shirley Horn, squeezes the last bitter-sweet drop of lyricism from Jimmy van Heusen’s and Sammy Cahn’s ballad Second Time Around. All at a tempo so slow it would make the average glacier seem impatient.
Although it’s seldom heard today, Dardanella (on YouTube below) was everywhere in the 1920’s (Tom Lord’s discography lists 172 separate jazz recordings). Cohen resurrects the antique smash hit to examine it from different perspectives and piano styles. You Already Know, another Cohen original, unleashes the extended group licensing the guest horns to express their comments on current modish licks and patterns.
In 1939, Duke Ellington hired Jimmy Blanton, a prodigiously talented bass player who helped to change the direction of jazz music before dying unbearably young. In 1940, Ellington and Blanton delighted fans with their ground-breaking duet, Pitter Panther Patter. Undeterred by reviving a classic and inviting comparisons with an influential predecessor, Russell Hall does well (pluckily?), accompanied by Cohen’s Duke-inflected stride.
After some luscious chords, the trio takes Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart’s My Heart Stood Still at a canter, resolving into dissonances that would warm the lingering spirit of Thelonious Sphere. Finally, on Little Angel (dedicated to Cohen’s benevolent guardian klutz?), Marquis Hill multi-tracks melancholy trumpet duets with himself.
Recording engineer Todd Whitelock was responsible for the pristine sound quality throughout.
Emmet Cohen piano; Russell Hall acoustic bass; Kyle Pool drums (except track 8); guests Melissa Aldana tenor saxophone (tracks 2, 3, 7); Marquis Hill trumpet (tracks 2, 3, 7, 10) 8). Recorded Sear Sound, New York, N.Y., U.S.A. January 21 & 22, 2020. Release date 29 January 2021. UK distributor is Proper Music