I like surprises. Most of the time, anyway. Nobody likes bad news, but, often enough, surprises are good.
Yesterday, I got a wonderful surprise -- completely out of the blue. It came in the form of an email from baritone saxophonist Kathy Olson, who was writing to tell me about her new CD, the Olson Pingrey Quartet's Low Contrast. I clicked on the link she provided, listened to the album on the Bandcamp website, and liked what I heard. A lot.
The quartet, which is based in Boston, is rooted in the jazz tradition, but the group is very much about stretching -- and even crossing -- the boundaries of that tradition. You'll hear what I mean in two of my favorite tracks from the CD, "Blues for Mac" and "Stone Age Rumba." Both songs reinvent traditional forms in exciting and creative ways. (Click on the links below to hear any of the tracks on the CD.)
I first met Kathy about a decade ago, when she was a student at the University of Virginia (where I teach) and a member of the university's Jazz Ensemble. Every year, a guest artist appears with the band. I'll never forget a terrific concert that featured Kathy dueting with that year's guest artist, the great baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber. I'm not going to tell you that Kathy was keeping up with Cuber -- not as an undergraduate -- but she wasn't all that far behind. The two of them made fabulous music together. Ten years, a master's degree in music, and a lot of experience later... Kathy's definitely playing on a elite level now.
The Olson Pingrey Quartet. (Photo: Rachel Blumenthal.)
Kathy co-leads the quartet with trombonist Randy Pingrey. The two of them write and arrange the band's repertoire, which is all originals. Mark Zaleski, on bass, and Austin McMahon, on drums, round out the group.
You probably noticed that the band doesn't have a piano or guitar to supply the chords. That's intentional, of course. Kathy says that the quartet was inspired by the legendary pianoless quartet that baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer led in the '50s. It's a distinct sound, and in the hands of people like Olson and Pingrey and Mulligan and Brookmeyer it's gorgeous.