By Gary Fukushima | Published March 2021
The treatment by Europeans of an American folk tradition as a bastion of high art has resulted in a rich panoply of outstanding jazz. Adding to this legacy are Slovakian pianist Luboš Šrámek and saxophonist Nikolaj Nikitin, who along with their Eastern European colleagues in the Altar Quintet sport an accomplished strain of improvised music. Collectively, the players have considerable experience with American jazz musicians, and for We Salute The Night they tap three A-listers to add authentic seasoning to their skillful blending of jazz and classical influences.
For “Kunzo,” trumpeter Tom Harrell fabricates a delicious strand of melody that weaves effortlessly through the shifting harmonic structure, sandwiched between confident solos by Nikitin and Šrámek. Bassist Drew Gress and drummer Johnathan Blake are also significant contributors, with Gress revealing a conservatory-like accuracy of pitch and placement on “Rain,” while Blake demonstrates the right amount of fiery attitude on the hard-swinging “Gipsy Moustache.” The rest of the album is handled by the core working quintet with immaculate attention to detail, including a faithful treatment of the Kenny Wheeler title track, a poignant arrangement by Nikitin of Bach’s “Jesu, Meine Freude” and the exquisite ballad “Stayin’ Alone.”
The one smudge on an otherwise highly polished effort is the unfortunately titled “Smells Like MILF Spirit,” which starts out as a rock chorale that’s somehow simultaneously dark and corny, devolving into a spirited but polite homage to Kurt Cobain’s hallowed grunge anthem. Apparently, not all Americana translates well abroad.
We Salute The Night: Kunzo; Rain; We Salute The Night; Gipsy Moustache; Stayin’ Alone; Smells Like MILF Spirit; Short Affair; Jesu, Meine Freude. (59:24)
Personnel: Luboš Šrámek, piano; Nikolaj Nikitin, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Tom Harrell (1, 2, 4), Kornél Fekete-Kovács (5, 6), Juraj Bartoš (3, 7, 8), trumpet, flugelhorn; Drew Gress (1, 2, 4), Nenad Vasilic (3, 5, 6, 7, 8), bass; Johnathan Blake (1, 2, 4), Klemens Marktl (3, 5, 6, 7, 8), drums.