Improvising — spontaneous musical invention atop an underlying form — is granted such obvious importance in jazz that the role of composition itself is often overlooked. Yet as satisfying as a freshly imagined solo will always remain, a freshly imagined solo following an ingeniously constructed and supremely musical tune can pack a far greater charge. Mosaic, attributed to the Blue Note 7, an ad hoc septet of top jazzmen assembled to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records, pays tribute to the joys of jazz melody as much as it glories in the legacy of a legendary record label or the vibrant talent of present-day players. The group, which includes pianist Bill Charlap, saxophonists Steve Wilson and Ravi Coltrane, guitarist Pete Bernstein, and trumpeter Nicholas Payton, treats the themes of such iconic pieces as Herbie Hancock?s “Dolphin Dance,” Monk?s “Criss Cross,” and McCoy Tyner?s ?Search for Peace? (all originally recorded for Blue Note) with straightforward, non-deconstructionist respect, imparting their admiration for the gemlike qualities of the works. A thoroughly mainstream recording, Mosaic is not colored by the experimental flavor that Blue Note in its prime often exemplified. But if none of these performances ruffle any feathers or leave the originals moldering even a bit in the dust, they all assert the quality of our most assured in-the-tradition players. The key soloists turn in exceptionally poised work — supported in high style by the bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash — but that?s no surprise to anyone who has kept abreast of the jazz scene over the past decade. What Mosaic does point out, unfortunately, is the paucity of durable contemporary jazz composition — particularly in comparison to the jewels on display in this fine recording.
About the Author
Steve Futterman writes the "Jazz and Standards" listings for The New Yorker.