Jeremy Pelt Digs into the Canon

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Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt (right) displays a deep canonical knowledge on The Art Of Intimacy, Vol. 1, a ballad-focused recording the bandleader made with pianist George Cables and bassist Peter Washington.

(Photo: Kasia Idzkowska)

During the past two decades, Jeremy Pelt has established himself as a resourceful trumpeter, bandleader and composer with an expansive repertoire that embraces everything from post-bop to fusion. Occasionally, though, he puts his compositional pursuits on the back burner and delves into cherished, sometimes obscure standards. And lately, when he’s focused on those explorations, Pelt has preferred cozy settings with jazz elders.

Such is the case for The Art Of Intimacy, Vol. 1, his glowing trio date with pianist George Cables and bassist Peter Washington. The album’s tone and lineup echo Pelt’s 2016 disc, #Jiveculture (HighNote), which featured bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Drummond with guest appearances from pianist Danny Grissett and percussionist Lisette Santiago. But that disc mostly was Pelt originals. The Art Of Intimacy (HighNote) consists almost entirely of covers, except for a sterling ballad, “Love Is Simple,” and the sensual blues joint “Ab-o-lutely.”

The ballad-focused recording highlights Pelt’s interpretive brilliance and deep canonical knowledge. In addition to an exquisite makeover of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “Little Girl Blue” and Johnny Green and Norman Newell’s “Always On My Mind,” Pelt exhumes lesser-known jewels, such as Lucky Thompson’s “While You Are Gone” and Lee Adams and Charlie Strouse’s “I’ve Just Seen Her.”

“I like making ballad records because it represents a lot of what I listen to,” Pelt explained. “But I wanted to pick songs that weren’t covered all the time. ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘Body And Soul’ aren’t bad tunes. But I wanted songs in which I could push the ball, personally.”

Both The Art Of Intimacy and #Jiveculture are “snapshots,” the trumpeter said, each giving him a chance to document splendid music with luminaries that he likely wouldn’t be able to tour with because of their own demanding careers. But that doesn’t mean Pelt just cast his net to recruit any jazz star. With both Cables and Washington, Pelt already had forged significant connections.

Pelt’s relationship with Cables dates back to the 1990s, when both worked with drummer Winard Harper. Discussing his admiration for Cables, the trumpeter mentioned the pianist’s sense of touch. “There’s so much power that emanates from what he puts in the music,” Pelt said. “And it almost seems effortless.”

The bandleader prizes Cables’ engrossing, often instantaneously singable compositions, too. He recalls the first time he performed Cables’ gentle, samba-implied classic “Helen’s Song.”

“The song was easy enough for me to memorize because it was just this very elegant piece,” Pelt said. “But I didn’t memorize it simply because it was easy. On that song, George covered all the bases in terms of rhythm, melody and harmony.”

On The Art Of Intimacy, Pelt and Cables display their rapport on a duet treatment of the pianist’s “Ebony Moonbeams,” a composition that was featured on the pianist’s 1975 debut LP, Why Not? As Cables underscores Pelt’s declarative melodic improvisations with thick harmonies and a hypnotic rhythmic motif, the support of a conventional rhythm section goes nearly unnoticed. The same can be said for the gorgeous piano-trumpet reading of Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn’s “I’ll Never Stop Loving You.”

In fact, one of the strengths of The Art Of Intimacy is the openness of its arrangements, springing from the absence of a drummer.

“Recording with drummers makes sessions easier because they take up so much space,” Pelt said. “Without the drums, everything that we play is much more amplified. With just piano and bass, it makes me have to pay more attention in how I should utilize them and omit things that I would normally do in my music. So, there’s definitely a challenge with having no drummer.”

When asked to share his assessment of Washington’s playing, Pelt said that he’s a frustrated bassist, himself.

“So, I’m very particular with my bass players,” Pelt said. “Of his generation, Peter is one those bassists that really takes care of the music. He never has to show off a lot of chops. But I can identify his sound on every record he’s played on.”

As with Cables, Pelt delivers a sanguine duo with Washington. For “Ab-o-lutely,” a tune co-penned by the two, Washington initiates with a sturdy and strutting bass line on which Pelt unleashes a menthol-flavored blues-based improvisation, marked with a flaring tone and jagged repetitive riffs.

The empathy forged by all three can’t be overlooked, though. The Art Of Intimacy boasts a warmth and sleek grace that suggests a long-running trio. And while Pelt mentions that Washington and Cables have played together previously, this is the first time all three have performed in a trio format. Pelt attributes the simpatico to the players being able to first socialize congenially as people.

“Anyone who can establish a nice social rapport has a greater chance of making music with a deeper connection, because that’s what matters,” Pelt said. “So, once we create the vibe, it’s about capturing that special moment—like a snapshot.” DB




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May 2020
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