For those of you playing along at home and may be unaware, San Francisco is quickly moving up in weight class and becoming one of the finest jazz cities in the United States. Trumpet phenom Joel Behrman is part of the reason a great many heads are turning in the direction of the Bay Area. Joel Behrman's Steppin' Back is an old school back to basics release that keeps it simple and reinforces the fundamental jazz hat trick being that there are three basic elements any musician needs to get down before advancing their career: swing, the blues, and establishing that connectivity with the audience and Behrman has these down cold!
Behrman moved to the Bay Area over a decade ago and like many has paid his proverbial dues and is now dropping his debut release Steppin' Back which includes seven well crafted originals and then some more eclectic fair from Duke Ellington, Joe Henderson and Louis Armstrong. Keeping it real and most of all a Bay Area project the band includes an "A" list group of local talent from bassist Marcus Shelby, pianist Matt Clark, drummer Howard Wiley, another rising star in tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens, and finally trombonist Danny Armstrong. Together this sextet packs a powerful punch from a formidable group long overdue for some notoriety having gone the "stealth" route far too long. The focal point for Steppin' Back is somewhat of a conceptualized three movement "Justice Suite" which is a dynamic look if not appropriate response to the current political climate of the day. Behrman's take is a far more open ended approach looking at the frustration of all people when they perhaps feel a little out of the loop when it comes to the basic principle of justice in society today.
While I still prefer keeping my music, religion, and politics in separate cages only to break glass when necessary, Behrman's attention to detail along with a well thought out ebb and flow has the release closing with a more whimsical look at the Louis Armstrong tune "The Faithful Hussar" so unlike so many artists that begin venturing into a more self-indulgent riff on the easy answers of political correctness the inclusive nature of Steppin' Back is a little something for everyone. The Joel Behrman originals that run the dynamic table from "Nickname" to "The Delicate One" are proof positive that his compositional work is every bit as solid as his prolific instrumental talents. The opening number "I Cover The Waterfront" is an intense virtual hard bop exploratory interpreted as a highly emotional ballad and the deceptively subtle swing of this Johnny Griffin classic shows Behrman's chops at their finest. While Clifford Brown's original cover was the inspiration for the Behrman arrangement, the kicked up reharm is a master class in dynamic changes and makes one wonder where Joel Behrman has been for so long! Simple...Behrman was laying his harmonic foundation while playing with vocalist Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers along with drummer Howard Wiley. The reality of genuine swing began to permeate Behrman's artistic soul with the end result well worth the wait. An innate sense of swing while maintaining the ability to play the blues is pure style which may be the perfect one word review here.
Aside from this incredible debut release which could have easily been titled Steppin' Out, Behrman is touring with Sheila E. and performs on a somewhat regular basis with her father, the Latin jazz giant Pete Escovedo. The reason Steppin' Back works so well and is easily one of the top trumpet releases for 2012 right out of the box is simple. Joel Behrman is about the music, period. Behrman does not try and reinvent the musical wheel nor does he head down the same self indulgent path of "tooting his own horn" as do so many of his contemporaries. Instead, Behrman and this all star band keep it old school and keep it swinging. Back in the day jazz was music you could dance to, a positive reaffirmation of the joy of melody and a blues you could use. While others would have you believe they have all the cultural keys to the kingdom, Behrman bypasses the pseudo-intellectual cerebral mind trip to instead offer up a little accessible musical joy.
Joel Behrman reintroduces the listener to the long lost art of a great melody played with great tone, articulated with spot on phrasing and emphasizing the one essential element so many artists overlook - fun!
Simple as that!
Tracks: I Cover The Waterfront; Nickname; L.I.B; Justice Suite; Mood To Be Wooed; Inner Urge; Whatever; The Delicate One; The Faithful Hussar.
Personnel: Joel Behrman: trumpet; Dayna Stephens: tenor sax; Danny Armstrong: trombone; Matt Clark: piano; Marcus Shelby: bass; Howard Wiley; drums.