NYSQ: Heaven Steps to Seven (Whirlwind Recordings, 2018)
PERSONNEL: Tim Armacost (tenor and soprano saxophone), David Berkman (piano), Ugonna Onegwo (double bass), Gene Jackson (drums)
- If I Should Lose You
- Every Time We Say Goodbye
- I Love You
- I’ll Keep Loving You
- Eye of the Hurricane
One of the great things about jazz is it allows a musician to take the familiar and turn it into something original. Songs recognized by the masses for decades can be approached from a different angle and made to sound almost brand new.
So seems to be the mission of the New York Standards Quartet (NYSQ), who have assembled and dipped into the well of jazz classics for their latest album, Heaven Steps to Seven. The band has done this six times before, which no doubt plays into the album’s title (in addition to it being a send-up of Seven Steps to Heaven, a Miles Davis classic). The group’s efforts are proving to be an honorable tribute to Jazz’s Golden Age.
NYSQ has taken to heart classic songs by Leonard Bernstein, Cole Porter, Herbie Hancock, and others, playing recognizable songs and morphing them into near-originals. The songs are played with taste and class, all but assuring approval from the original composers, fans of the original renditions, and new listeners alike.
Listeners can’t help but hum along with the saxophone of Tim Armacost as he plays the familiar melody of Leonard Bernstein’s “Tonight,” from West Side Story. He and pianist David Berkman never lose musical momentum as they move gracefully through standards like “Cheryl,” “Peace,” “Eye of the Hurricane,” and other classics. Ugonna Okegwo (bass) and Gene Jackson (drums) provide an excellent sense of groove and a solid foundation for the band, as they endeavor to make these legendary pieces sound like originals. Quite successfully, as it were.
NYSQ has produced a solid “foreground/background” album, meaning their music can be appreciated under the spotlight of intense study or casually enjoyed as part of the overall soundscape of a busier setting. Either way, it is an album worthy of repeated listens.