When he moved to Philadelphia from Versailles six years ago, bassist and composer Alex Delcourt was already primed to slip right into the predictably dulcet sounds of his new jazz scene. Philly jazz has a tendency to stay close to hard bop and other styles that emerged alongside it in the 1950s. It doesn’t usually challenge the listener much, but at its best, Philly jazz presents a fresh take on recycled ideas. With To My Brothers, Delcourt attempts to do just this, and it mostly succeeds. Though it’s just a year apart from his first record, The French Quarter, To My Brothers allows Delcourt plenty of space to build upon the evocative melodic structures he explored in his debut. Still, the album often feels like an exercise in emulation, rather than an attempt to stake out new territory. The influence of players such as Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, and Dexter Gordon is evident in the solo sections, and Delcourt’s compositional style is full of nods to the past as well. His smooth, lilting melodies are often so comforting and well placed that they sound familiar, despite their newness. This works in Delcourt’s favor; the antiquated feeling of this record doesn’t leave the listener too disappointed. What he lacks in groundbreaking originality, he makes up for in refined taste and mastery of the musical styles he’s emulating. On his sophomore record, Delcourt finds a sweet spot to land between shmaltz and artful agitation.
To My Brothers features local brass legend John Swana on trumpet and valve trombone. The album is by no means simply the John Swana show, however; integral contributions are made by Elliot Bild on trumpet, Henry Tirfe on tenor sax, Zion Fritzinger on guitar, Nathaniel Hawk on piano, Steve Perry on drums, and of course, Delcourt laying down a solid, warm foundation on the upright bass. While Swana blows through masterful licks, giving the record a nicely seasoned sound, he doesn’t far outshine the rest of the septet. From the very first track, “Poseidon,” it is obvious that Steve Perry is going to be one of this record’s standout players. He proves that he can hold down a variety of grooves: from the hip, angular polyrhythms of “Poseidon,” to the more straight ahead title track, where Perry makes himself right at home in the proverbial pocket. The entire rhythm section is clearly in sync throughout the record, creating a firm structure that the horn players can effortlessly blow over. Tirfe, Swana, and Bild do just that; they take off on their own tangents with confidence, but in their unison rhythms, a rich blend makes it clear that they are listening to each other.
The playing on To My Brothers is successful, but it’s Delcourt’s compositions themselves that both show off his musical growth and highlight the areas where he still has a ways to go. Delcourt is notably more adventurous as a composer on this record than he was on The French Quarter. Six of the eight tracks are Delcourt’s originals, while two covers, “Les Passantes” and “L’aigle Noir,” are tasteful nods to his French roots. Delcourt’s compositions don’t exactly sound out of place among dated French tunes, but they are still undeniably more forward-thinking. While The French Quarter is overwhelmingly heartfelt, sometimes to the point of tedium, To My Brothers remains sensitive in a way that manages to keep the listener on their toes. “Poseidon” opens up the album with excitement and tasteful technique-flexing, immediately letting the listener know that Delcourt is taking on something new. Midway through the record, he returns to what may be a comfort zone in the laid back ballad “Sparkling.” Still, he manages to maintain a sense of lightness; this time, he’s not heavy handed with the sentimentality. On the last track, “Galluis Beach,” Delcourt takes the introduction as an opportunity to show off a bit, reminding us what a masterful bassist he is. This track wistfully marks the end of a concise, yet substantial collection of music.
Though you aren’t presented with much in the way of new ideas from this record, To My Brothers does offer the listener a pleasant, warm, and easy to enjoy encapsulation of French and American jazz traditions. The record also represents noticeable growth since Delcourt’s previous release. Hopefully, whatever comes next for this bassist and composer sees him exploring even more new sonic territory, and beginning to shed the outmoded skin of the Philly jazz scene. Delcourt clearly has the technique, musicality, and leadership skills necessary to keep this growth going. Overall, To My Brothers is a tender, romantic nod to a past era of jazz music; however, it is varied and imaginative enough to keep the listener looking forward to whatever Delcourt decides to explore on his next release.
- Masterful playing and pleasant melodies make the record an easy listen
- Branches off into previously unexplored stylistic territory
- Still has a dated and emulative sound, despite obvious growth