Cover Photo: Oleg Danilov
REVIEWED BY: Andrew Janak
Recognized as as saxophonist and composer, some of Andrew’s compositions have been performed/recorded by groups around the United States including the UNL Jazz Orchestra with Victor Lewis, DePaul Jazz Ensemble with Randy Brecker, Bob Lark's Alumni Big Band and the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra.
Gary Meek: Originals
by Andrew Janak
Gary Meek’s musical resume reads like a “who’s who” of contemporary jazz and fusion artists including stints with the Dave Weckl Band, Flora Purim, Jeff Lorber, among many others. An active sideman and session musician since the 1980s, the aptly titled Originals is Meek’s first recording as a leader in 15 years and features a set of eight focused, melodic original compositions. Meek’s bright, muscular tenor sound is prominent throughout the recording, but he also shines as an orchestrator, especially on “Suite for Maureen” with the addition of Airto Moreira’s auxiliary percussion and Michael Lent’s nylon string acoustic guitar to the core quintet.
The opening track of the album “What Happened to My Good Shoes?” features the frontline of Meek and trumpeter Randy Brecker playing an angular melody over a varied rhythm section accompaniment, moving between pedal swing, walking swing and 12/8 Afro Cuban grooves. All band members are featured as soloists on the track with Meek and Brecker in particular showcasing their abilities to balance virtuosity with a sense of motivic development. The track is punctuated at the end by trading between Meek, Brecker, pianist Mitchel Forman and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.
The most through composed tune on the album is “Suite for Maureen” dedicated to Meek’s wife. Opening with a haunting piano line, the composition starts as a slow Pat Metheny-esque ballad featuring Airto Moreira’s ethereal percussion work. Eventually the band transitions into an up-tempo samba with Meek and Brecker trading plucky phrases over a rhythm section vamp. A new melody over the samba groove appears with tenor/trumpet/guitar melody lines answered by virtuosic bass lines by Brian Bromberg. Meek then gets to stretch over a new solo form; he shows great patience over the pedal section at the top of the form before launching into more technical lines into the altissimo register of the tenor over the ii-V based changes that follow. Brecker follows with another masterful solo before the band launches into a shout chorus. Short syncopated ensembles phrases alternate with Carrington’s drum fills before a recap of the samba melody brings the tune to a close. “Suite for Maureen” encapsulates all of Meek’s strengths as a composer – a great sense of pacing, interesting orchestration choices even in a small ensemble, and interesting melodic lines and grooves that grab the listener’s attention without overwhelming them.
The closing track on the album, “Lost Dreams,” is a duet between Meek and guitarist Bruce Forman. Instead of ending on an upbeat note like many jazz records, “Lost Dreams” is a melancholy ballad that showcases Meek’s mournful tenor sound. Forman’s accompaniment never overshadows Meek’s solo but complements it perfectly through a combination of ringing sustained chords and more active rhythmic comping.
With Originals, Gary Meek has not just proven to be a fine post-Michael Brecker tenor saxophone soloist, but also an inventive composer. Inspired by his all-star collection of sidemen, Meek created an album that is entrancing from beginning to end. This reviewer is excited to hear what Meek comes up with next; hopefully we won’t have to wait another 15 years for the next solo album.-AJ