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Alexander McCabe’s Quiz Is the Fun Kind

What do you do when your popular ska-punk band reaches the end of the line? Play jazz, of course. That’s the answer alto saxophonist Alexander McCabe offers on his new album, Quiz. After his time with Warped Tour vets Mephiskapheles, he returned to his first love. This album, his third as a jazz bandleader, features him in brightly melodic, tunefully retro mode, backed by Uri Caine on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Rudy Royston on drums (with Greg Hutchinson making the most of two tracks). Like his big influences, Cannonball Adderley and Jackie McLean, he puts the tunes front and center over any kind of ostentatious blowing which is always welcome to hear. It’s almost funny listening to Caine playing straight up, and not only competently, but obviously having a lot of fun doing it. Who knew he could actually stay in trad mode and not even hint at going outside.

They open with Weezie’s Waltz, a genuine charmer til McCabe decides to take it out a bit: Caine gets a solo and brings it back to home base lyrically with a wry bluesy grin, the last thing you’d expect, and it hits the spot. With Hutchinson aggressively punching in as it builds, Lonnegan, another original, is catchy, fast and swinging with some vivid Sonny Rollins echoes, McCabe working from bouncy to silvery glissandos and then back, Okegwo feeling the vibe and punching out his solo as matter-of-factly as the rest of the crew. A staggered, sunstreaked ballad, Kalido features a lumbering Hutchinson busting up Okegwo’s stealth operation, McCabe slithering up to see what happened in his absence. The title track works a long, brisk, stunningly melodic lead line up to a crescendo and then starts over again.

The band has a good time with Good Morning Heartache, taking their time making their way in, Royston doing his trademark rumble while McCabe goes blithely out on a limb, finally finding a modified bossa beat that rides gingerly on the rims. A comedic march theme, St. Pat is the freest moment here, Okegwo deviously taunting everyone to follow him as he solos. They wind it up with an expansive, goodnaturedly energetic version of How Little We Know that with a little less sonic clarity would be a dead ringer for the McLean band at their peak. Great fun, inspired playing and not a bad song on the album.

 

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