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Review of "Quiz"
By Dan McClenaghan

Alto saxophonist/composer Alexander McCabe returns from a five-year recording hiatus with the swinging, accessible, and sometimes surprisingly adventurous Quiz.

The Round (Wamco Music, 2005), McCabe's previous offering, was a superb mainstream set, with a hint of the Irish barroom on the title tune. Quiz once again displays the artist's mainstream frame of mind in a vibrant ensemble featuring pianist Uri Caine, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummers Greg Hutchinson and Rudy Royston. Where The Round had a more traditional jazz atmosphere, Quiz pushes those boundaries more, with the leader's sax giving off a more wildly-searching vibe, in the mode of Jackie McLean and Eric Dolphy, on a set of five McCabe originals and two covers.

But it's straight-ahead on the opener, "Weezie," a bright, sunny swinger—sometimes a waltz, sometimes not. On "Lonnegan," McCabe cranks up the intensity factor a couple of notches, with some searing alto and a boiling rhythm. Caine gets an ebulliently nuanced turn on the keys. The release's title tune begins by prowling shadowy streets, gathering energy as it pushes ahead into brighter territory.

The disc's centerpiece and highlight, the standard "Good Morning Heartache," begins with rolling thunderclouds in the mode of John Coltrane's Impulse! Records Quartet with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, before gelling into freewheeling fluidity, with McCabe at his most inspired. The quartet, with a spontaneous interplay, explores the beauty of the familiar tune before McCabe takes thing out, with an interlude of anguish.

"St. Pat" is a funky beatification, with McCabe's sharp lines and Caine's free-flying piano work, and the closer, "How Little We Know" brings things back to the straight-ahead mode with a casual rhythmic restraint behind McCabe's tangy alto.

Quiz is step forward for Alexander McCabe, an excellent mainstream—and sometimes not quite mainstream—offering.

 

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