Rex Gregory, Rocket Summer (Independent)

Rex Gregory’s latest release, Rocket Summer, exhibits maturation in his playing, his writing, and his band. This is a jazz record that gives reference and nods to the past while being firmly planted in the present. Songs like “Love Song for Dr. Kremnitz” have propulsive melodies and chord progressions that better the sound of more well-known jazz players in bigger media centers. Certain tunes such as “Map-Making” have a vibe like late 1950s Coltrane. Other tunes “Requiem For A Lost Youth” makes twists or sing melodies like the compositions of Wayne Shorter or Sam Rivers. These surprises are negotiated by the band especially drummer Jamison Ross who keeps up with the tempo and meter changes while adding fills and accents to keep it interesting. Also keeping it interesting is James Westfall’s vibraphone which gives the record an airiness that provides great support to the other soloists, especially on the yearning, almost sad “symbiottes.” The soloists are given room to shine here, and they do. Both Gregory on alto and Derek Douget on tenor are not simply playing scales by rote. The way they break up their patterns and vary their attack and phrasing make it sound like they are trying to say something, not just go off. Both the quality of the songs and the way the band plays make this a very put-together set. The way the sonic textures and lines that recur throughout work off each other make this a great, coherent set of music, not just a jumble of tunes thrown on a CD.