There are plenty of musicians whose first love is playing jazz but realize that applying their talents to other genres can be more lucrative. Such is the case with pianist, composer, and erstwhile musical director David Cook who leads such big name acts as Taylor Swift, Shoshona Bean, and Shayna Steele. But as the title, Loyal Returns, rather obliquely indicates Cook’s preference is in a true jazz setting. He didn’t shirk at surrounding himself with first call players either – longtime friend and tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel also serves as producer. Fiery trumpeter Philip Dizack, bassist Matt Clohesy, and drummer Kendrick Scott round out the classic jazz instrumental quintet.
Cook wrote the material, challenging himself to compose pieces with the horns in mind first. His quintet sound is loosely modeled on Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers but with a contemporary flair that includes Kneebody and Fred Hersch’s quintet. In that sense, he blends the straight ahead with the ethereal, explorative all with a through composed feel and underlying groove. The opener sounds far more ‘out there’ than straight ahead as Dizack’s screaming trumpet and Wendel’s tenor along with crashing rhythms seem to simulate the bustle of New York City. In fact, the tune, “The Flaw (in My Business Model”) stems from a friend’s complaint about having to drag his standup bass to gigs all over the city to make ends meet. The mood turns pensive quickly with “Hawks,” originally written for a trio of tenor, piano, and bass. The two horns give it strong harmonic colors and Scott clatters rather unobtrusively underneath letting the fleshed out arrangement take shape as a vigorous discourse between Wendel and Dizack as Cook fills in the spaces.
“Blues in Muri” references the town in Switzerland where Cook composed much of the album. Although the horns are front and center, the piece features strong bass work from Clohesy and Cook’s imaginative take on blues structures. “St. Lawrence” is named for the street next to Cook’s New Jersey home where he often spent time walking and talking with his daughter during the heart of the pandemic. As such, it is one of the more clearly piano driven tunes with horn parts, especially Dizack’s trumpet, exude the warmth of these enjoyable father-daughter moments. The brief “Visitor for Everywhere” is a nod to Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter in an attempt to emulate the simple sounding but underlying harmonic complexity of their compositions.
“Party Song” is a straight ahead hard bop number in the spirit of Blakey. There are some tricky rhythms which, of course, Scott deftly navigates. Both Wendel and Dizack are at in aggressive, fierce form. The next two pieces continue the upbeat vibe with the stomping, majestic title track, filled with strong ensemble parts and spirted solos, reflecting the joy of playing jazz with these musicians again. Yet, Cook’s last chord leaves one hanging as if he’s posing a question of signaling a change. “Brighter Places” does indeed begin rather pensively before blossoming into a quietly upbeat demeanor. It was originally written as duet for trumpet and piano but the addition of Wendel’s tenor and crafty touches from the bass-drum tandem take it into harmonically rich territory. The piece segues seamlessly into solo piano in the closing “Night Circle” as Cook approaches the chords differently each time in circular patterns, ending with a theme similar to that stated in the prior piece.
Just as Cook found joy in returning to his first love and playing with close friends, you’ll also enjoy the close interplay and spirit inherent in this colorful music.
- Jim Hynes
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