CD Title: Passage
Year: 2004
Record Label: JMG Music
Style: Straight-Ahead / Classic
Musicians: Jason Gaines (trumpet), Rich Perry (tenor saxophone), Gabe Cummins (guitar), Peter Brendler (bass), Vinnie Sperrazza (drums)

Review: At the age of 26 years, Jason Gaines continues to pursue an aggressive plan for the development of his career as a musician, including work with off-Broadway productions, playing jazz in the clubs, working in theatrical pit orchestras and gigging on a free-lance basis. Since moving to New York in 1998, he, like many other young musicians, has absorbed as much knowledge from mentors like Cecil Bridgewater and in universities like New York University as time would allow. After earning two degrees, he continues to work on his doctorate in music at Columbia University, presumably to start teaching music as a profession. Now, Gaines has recorded his first CD, Passage.

Passage, moreover, provides plenty of evidence of Gaines’ hard-bop inclinations throughout the CD, even on the slower numbers. With a bright, glowing sound and precise articulation, Gaines is joined harmonically by a musician of an equivalent sonic richness, tenor saxophonist Rich Perry. Not only does Gaines play with bite and fast-moving lines on the faster number, Freddie Hubbard no doubt an influence, but also he has composed three-quarters of the eight tracks. The remaining two consist of tunes by Pat Metheny and Tom Harrell, consistent with Gaines’ fascination with logical yet non-ordinary modulations and melodic strength.

The first piece, “Park Drive,” sets the stage for Gaines’ work throughout the rest of Passage, as he and Perry lay back on the two-part presentation of the theme for the first eight bars, only to move into a Latinized stirring of the rhythm for the second eight measures as Gaines alters the moods on a metrically regular basis as if he were moving past a prism to create a shifting of colors.

On “Recollection,” Gaines emphasizes melodic content as he plays his own tune on muted trumpet with pensive sensitivity and with close attention to the quality of tone. And then when Perry comes in, seamlessly picking up on Gaines’ final thought before the handoff of improvisational leadership, he imbues the song with warmth and poignancy, his solo breathily played in the lower register of the tenor sax for understated effectiveness. Metheny’s “Whittlin’” pushes the group with irresistible force, allowing them to improvise along hard-boppish lines as Gaines starts his solo with triple-tonguing cranking up of the excitement as he leads into successive pushing-of-the-envelop solos, contrasted by Perry’s staggering of the beat on his.

Gaines’ own composition, “Passage” (the title of which could have several meanings) moves through several moods throughout the course of the track, and even throughout the course of a single chorus. First, “Passage” lays down a light groove, accented by Gabe Cummins shifting dual chords on guitar, as Gaines’ muted trumpet and Perry play the snaking melodic lines in unison. But after a minute, that changes, and the quintet leaps into double time bridge, before easing back into the main theme again. After all of the melodic instruments take their turns at solos, though, drummer Vinnie Sperrazza contributes his own, making evident his talent for listening to the ideas of the other players and for driving the group forward with empathetic force.

Passage is a well-produced first recording for Jason Gaines, introducing smart new compositions and a fresh sound expertly executed. Once Gaines completes his
immersion in music studies at Columbia, no doubt we’ll be hearing more from him in the future.

Tracks: Park Drive, Passage, Recollection, The Messenger, Whittlin’, Worlds Apart, Vista, Grand Concourse
Reviewed by: Don Williamson