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Niels Vincentz - Gravity

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Artist: Niels Vincentz

Album: Gravity

Label: Steeplechase

Review date: May. 29, 2013

On a playing field populated with dozens of young gun saxophonists, Niels Vincentz is probably a new name to most. I passed on his debut disc for Steeplechase last year despite the presence of can’t-miss veterans Cameron Brown and Billy Hart in a piano-free trio format. Big mistake. Gravity, his second project for the Danish label, picks up right where band’s first studio session left off, but with the benefit of an abundance of recent working gigs under their collective belt. The players’ partnership actually dates back to the late-1990s and that longevity of rapport informs each of the program’s nine pieces: five from Vincentz, two by Brown and a pair of blue-haired Jimmy Van Heusen standards with strong Coltrane connotations. That skew toward originals is a bit out of the box for a Steeplechase date and a welcome chance to hear the trio negotiate music removed from the pages of fake book predictability.

“Nancy with the Laughing Face” and “It Could Happen to You” serve as capsule studies in what separates Vincentz from his legion of peers. He opens both unaccompanied with burnished tone that blends delicacy with authority, gliding languorously through the theme. Hart generates lush cymbal washes on the first and brushed accents on both around an anchoring throb by Brown, a gentle hi-hat click punctuating the tempo and keeping it loose, but not lethargic. Brown’s “Sheila, It’s You” salutes his old employer vocalist Sheila Jordan with an effervescent rondo while “Lullabye for George, Don and Danny” quietly celebrates a trio of his departed colleagues answering to the surnames Adams, Pullen and Richmond, and beautifully evokes nobility of the epic ensemble they shared together.

Both Brown and Hart have discographies that tabulate easily into the triple digits. They’re old aces on their instruments, but age is anything but a hindrance in either case. The bassist goes for a plump amplified articulation that recalls the custom sound of several decades past. The fat resonating stops he drops on “Twilight Blues” point to the wisdom in outfitting his rig the way he does. Hart is a fleet-thinking technician as both soloist and accompanist in the best sense, the logic behind his patterns and shadings offering the listener both complete transparency and an associative wonderment at how he manages to find the right rhythmic combination for each and every context whether it’s a crackling succession of press rolls, dancing tom tom patter, or the deft polyrhythmic coupling of both.

Vincentz revels in the regal support. “Take That Hill” and “Habibi” reveal his substantial soprano skills with a dry, at times almost acerbic tone that has shadings of Steve Lacy in the offing, particular during the frenetic sections of the former piece where Hart and Brown really go at it. The disc’s title has no point of reference in the track list, but it does work as an apt descriptor for the music as a whole, reflecting the collective weight and strength of character the players bring to the endeavor. Their ability to bypass the customary constraints of their chosen format while capitalizing fully on its flexibility yields an hour-plus set of consistent quality.

By Derek Taylor

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