Album review

Greg Cordez – ‘Magnolia’

Greg Cordez – Magnolia

Ropeadope. Album review by Jon Turney

I guess when you’re a New Zealand expatriate, residing in the UK, popping over to New York to make an album isn’t such a big deal. But it’s an interesting move for bassist Greg Cordez, a man whose music often reflects a manner that his friends would probably describe as undemonstrative.

He also writes in the notes about his “fears and doubts” as an improvising musician. But, while it’s true you won’t catch him offering up lengthy solos, the style of his own recordings – including this third release – is anything but doubt ridden. The consistency of the way these pleasingly crafted tracks unfold bespeaks a clear vision of the space he wants his compositions to occupy. It’s the same quiet confidence that underlies the protocol for this recording and its predecessor, 2018’s Last Things Last: book studio time in NY, work with a producer – this time fellow bassist and composer Chris Lightcap – and book some of the best players in the city to come on down.

That gives us quite a star-studded quintet. Steve Cardenas is on guitar, as on Last Things Last, joined now by Tony Malaby on saxophones, Kenny Wollesen on drums and, perhaps most crucially, John Cowherd on piano. They respond beautifully to Cordez’ writing, which evinces a kind of calculated tunefulness, blending melody-led Americana and jazz. The compositional approach is influenced by Reid Anderson (who loaned his bass for the recording) and the less well-known bassist Todd Sickafoose while the melodies bring to mind Maria Schneider or recent work by Aaron Parks.

It’s an orderly music, and the mostly mid-tempo settings invite slow-build solos from all parties, the kind that create a feeling of the players plotting their way forward cleverly as they proceed. That begins with the opener, Down Quark, with its simple, low throttle theme explored on piano and soprano sax. Front Crawl has a bass-anchored slow groove that gets gradually more insistent underneath a lush tenor solo. Let Me Begin Again’s sax and guitar unison is suitably contemplative, almost a threnody. The band revisit the title tune on Cordez’ first recording, Paper Crane, which draws a brief Hadenesque from the composer. Company Milk breaks the mood with a rock edge before the more meditative closer.

All the soloists play as if this was music they had been waiting for. They deliver the jazz trick of sounding like a close-knit band in a one-off session. This is greatly aided by the understanding between frequent playing partners Cardenas and Cowherd. And the addition of the pianist, who combines a gorgeous chordal touch with a magical ability to be ready with the perfect thought for every occasion, seems to be the strongest influence on the overall sound, after our undemonstrative leader, and makes this third recording from Cordez his most beguiling yet.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. Links: Website and  Twitter

LINK: Magnolia is on Bandcamp

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