By Brian Zimmerman | Published 2017
There are flashes of musical prestidigitation evident in nearly every track on Sleight Of Hand, the latest album by NYSQ. The time-tested ensemble—reedist Tim Armacost, pianist David Berkman, drummer Gene Jackson and bassist Daiki Yasukagawa—brings its mystic touch to eight standards of the Great American Songbook and interprets them in ways both foreign and familiar. The group takes an innovative approach on tunes of the well-worn sort (“I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Lover Man”) and a couple of more recently minted gems (Hank Mobley’s “This I Dig Of You,” Herb Ellis’ “Detour Ahead”). The quartet’s version of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” is revved up, refracted and stretched across new rhythmic patterns, and Armacost and Berkman offer agile, bop-laced solos. And the group wrings all of the emotional poignancy out of “In A Sentimental Mood,” taking it at a deliberate rubato that allows ample room for silence and reflection. At just over three minutes, it’s the album’s shortest track, but it’s also the most affecting. In terms of pure swing, it’s hard to beat the group’s rendition of “Ask Me Now.” In their hands, the immortal Thelonious Monk tune ricochets around spiky rhythmic corners and careens down surprising harmonic lanes. Reinterpreting the standards is one of jazz’s most longstanding traditions. The New York Standards Quartet has a way of making that tradition seem fresh.