Garth Alper, “Stratus” (Independent)

The fourteenth century maxim “familiarity breeds contempt” has nothing at all to do with jazz. In the best circumstances, the situation is quite the opposite. This session, by University of Louisiana, Lafayette jazz studies coordinator Garth Alper and four of his faculty colleagues, reveals that familiarity enhances musical moments.


Stratus, pianist Alper’s fourth recording as a leader, is a mainstream jazz session featuring a range of swing and bebop material. The band includes saxophonist Michael Jenner, guitarist Jeff George, bassist Bob Nash and drummer Chris Munson.

Familiarity and trust abound here as they explore a variety of moods on seven original compositions and two standards from the jazz canon. The players have a sense where each other are headed, and find ways to complement that journey.

“Garthbanzo Beans,” “Catharsis” and the session closer, the twisty-turny “Off Kilter,” are favorites because of their various sprightly and playful feels. Their momentum is carried to a higher level in each case by the intense soloing of Jenner on saxophones and George on guitar.

Alper’s “Out of the Woods” is a study in contrasts, with the pianist exploring the groove in subdued fashion, setting up a Jenner’s intense tenor sax solo. The vamp-like “Quackery” builds on Munson’s shuffle beat. The title track is filled with mystery and spaciousness and teases at times with an oriental flavor, particularly at the end of the piano solo.

The session includes two homages. The piano trio digs deep into the bop classic “Celia,” which was composed by Bud Powell, one of Alper’s musical heroes. The other is “Ode to Mr. Brubeck,” an Alper original featuring a vampish 5/4 time signature, and terrific piano, bass and guitar interplay.

The band’s take on Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “It Could Happen to You” provided an opportunity to take familiar material and find interesting new facets through solid improvisation.