By Jonathan Widran
Everyone in urban jazz land is going gaga this summer for the high profile all-star cover albums Summer Horns and BWB’s Human Nature—but when genre fans tire of the nostalgic sizzle, they’ll discover the season’s hands down most exciting and explosive project, veteran saxman Andrew Neu’s provocatively titled Everything Happens For A Reason. If you haven’t seen this dynamo on tour with Bobby Caldwell, Diane Schuur or Smokey Robinson—and his earlier indie releases escaped your attention—it’s time you took a chance on an artist and composer who does just that: thinks and jams outside the box.
Sure, there’s infectious in the pocket, horn splashed gems like the title track and “Poolside” (featuring Steve Oliver’s snappy as always guitar). But beyond those likeable numbers, Neu takes us on a bona fide journey, first through time on the shimmering mid tempo retro soul tune “Hit Me Up” (featuring Jeff Lorber old schoolin’ on the keys) and the sly and sensual take on “Take Five,” styled in the mode of Quincy Jones and Sergio Mendes flavored 60s’ soul jazz. Dave Brubeck’s spirit is no doubt groovin’ to the fiery horns and Neu’s funky whimsy—and his celestial ears are poppin’ with Gannin Arnold’s crisp electric lines. The intro to “Vespa” has a dreamy, Latin-classical aura, inviting us into a balmy tropical jam with a killer dancing guest list: Tom Schuman and Otmaro Ruiz on piano, Oliver (working his flashy acoustic magic), project producer Brian Bromberg (spinning a plucky bass solo) and Alex Acuna (always dependable when a percussive fire needs lighting).
A tad less artsy but no less danceable is the pocket Latin funk of “Night Of the Mojito,” which stretches to a generous, expansive seven minutes thanks to wild solo spots by Neu, Lorber’s dancing piano and trumpeter Rick Braun (the B in BWB, steppin’ out by himself and sizzling with the high octane horns). Neu also stamps his passport with a taste of African chanting on the playful, easy rolling “Dreaming of Lions,” featuring Oliver and Bromberg. Neu is best known these days for his tours with Caldwell, which makes the balmy, Sinatra styled romantic vocal track “What Would I Do” something of an oasis amidst the fiery pieces and an artistic centerpiece. Neu complements this track with a wistful orchestral prelude (played by the Los Angeles Studio String Orchestra) and a bonus instrumental reprise featuring Neu’s sax emoting as effectively as Caldwell on the vocal version.
If Everything Happens for A Reason, then Neu’s emergence as a bona fide leader (and not just a great sideman putting out occasional solo albums) is something that the contemporary jazz gods have ordained. Now it’s up to the listeners to open their collective ears and say, yes, we love Koz, Mindi, Gerald, Kirk, et al…but there’s room for one more sax star in the galaxy.