First, the details. Here’s a partial list of artists with records on which saxophonist Scott Robinson has appeared: Ella Fitzgerald, Sting, Elton John and John Scofield. In 2001, Robinson was named a jazz ambassador by the U.S. State Department. Over his career, he has received a total of four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Now, to bassist Ken Filiano. In addition to teaching master classes in bass and improv, he also owns a Bachelor of Music degree in Double Bass from Syracuse University. Within the avant-garde jazz world, he is one of the most in-demand players and while he hasn’t been part of as many Grammy Award-winning recordings as Robinson has, he’s been doing studio work for more than 30 years.
And then there’s … Jeff Cosgrove. The local jazz drumming powerhouse is coming off two tremendously impressive sets, 2015’s “Conversations With Owls” and 2014’s “Alternating Current.” While the former featured a fantastically innovative take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things,” the latter showcased “Bridges Of Tomorrow,” a sprawlingly ambitious opus that clocked in at about 38 minutes. All told, if his previous work hadn’t done so, those releases alone established the drummer as a local musical heavyweight.
So, combine the three, and what do you get? “Hunters & Scavengers,” the first release in Grizzley Music’s new digital series. Not only is it just so damn good, but it also marks the first time this trio of title-holders has been on a record together. Throw in an Ornate Coleman classic — the album-closing “Lonely Woman” — and the result is 10 tracks of Cosgrove’s most varied (if not best) work to date.
Proof of that is found in “High, Low.” Making his name by being as obtuse and abstract as possible, this is the first time in Cosgrove’s last three records that he … wait for it … swings, even if it is the tinniest bit. Sure, he wouldn’t dare allow the groove to hold for too long, but it’s refreshing to hear someone typically so challenging appear so accessible. Or, well, relatively accessible, at least.
Just as memorable is “Don’t Look (Just Run),” which often dips into sounding like the vision of a spastic bee navigating its way through blades of grass. Cosgrove’s sprinting cymbal work catches the curiosity while Filiano and Robinson combine for a delicious undertone of tension as the track buzzes itself through the finish line. It’s exhilarating in all the right ways.
Speaking of Filiano and Robinson, though, they each get ample time to shine in the back-to-back showcase of “Rays Of Dawn” and “Simple Justification.” Slowed down and gorgeous, “Rays” grants Robinson the space to stretch out his emotive playing, sustaining layered notes beyond atypical parameters. The conversation between him and his fellow players is stunningly subdued, a melting of classicism and patience that grants the production an impressive amount of levity.
“Justification,” meanwhile, allows Filiano an ominous turn at about the minute-and-a-half mark, his voice moving with purpose and grace — especially when he runs up and down the instrument with admirable pacing. Another twist comes when the band rejoins him, only to settle into some semblance of a pop groove, be it for a measure or three. Toe-tapping is usually not synonymous with Jeff Cosgrove records, and while you still have to think about which toe you want to tap, it’s the closest he’s ever come to settling in.
Besides, when you have the ferocity and ambiguity of “Instinct,” a quick 39-second blast of sound, energy and vigor, you can afford to ever-so-slightly dip a toe into more structured seas. Ditto for opener “Eyes Of The Hunter,” which kicks things off in usual Cosgrove style — a flurry of syncopated rolls underneath long, sustaining notes from his peers — and announces the set with proper pretense.
Yet with “Hunters & Scavengers,” that pretense goes down a little smoother than it did previously. Cosgrove, Filiano and Robinson are all top-shelf players, and combined, they bring out a level of comfort in each other that hasn’t been heard on Cosgrove’s recent work. It’s enlivening to hear such fascinating musical minds combine to create such timeless work.
Needless to say, if Cosgrove’s been hunting all this time, it looks like his days of scavenging ought to soon be coming to an end.
*** 3 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 ***