STEREOPHILE Magazine on Giant Step Arts

Early in 2019, three jazz CDs appeared on a new record label. They were Jason Palmer's Rhyme and Reason, Johnathan Blake's Trion (both double CDs), and Eric Alexander's Leap of Faith. The label was Giant Step Arts.

Given that hundreds of jazz records—many of them good— are released every month, and that new jazz labels pop up all the time, is the release of three new albums really news?

Giant Step Arts is news. For starters, it is radically more than a record label. The story begins with Jimmy Katz.

DOWNBEAT Eric Alexander

Eric Alexander

Leap Of Faith

(Giant Step Arts)

By Ed Enright

Eric Alexander steps outside of himself and embarks on far-reaching excursions for this live outing, recorded last August at New York’s Jazz Gallery with bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Jonathan Blake. 

Leap Of Faith presents the tenor saxophonist in a liberated light, with few harmonic constraints to heed and no commercial expectations whatsoever from Jimmy Katz’s nonprofit organization Giant Step Arts [ed. note: Katz is a regular DownBeat contributor]. Alexander takes full advantage of this artistic and financial opportunity to explore his own wide-ranging tastes and shed his image as a bebop purist by boldly venturing into avant-garde territory and beyond. His playing is explosive, unbridled, searching and cathartic in this chordless trio setting—wide-open terrain that previously was unexplored by Alexander.

The program is all Alexander originals that were composed during a recent period of turbulence in the saxophonist’s life, and he clearly uses this new material to vent his wildest ideas and innermost emotions. Leap Of Faith begins with a brief free investigation that quickly takes shape as “Luquitas,” a showcase for the group’s boundless energy and unceasing momentum. The saxophonist plays with uttermost intensity on the swaggering “Hard Blues” and the Coltrane-fired “Second Impression.” Blake’s thundering drums anchor the blistering “Frenzy,” and Weiss’ resonant bowings serve as an essential undercurrent for “Magyar,” a work based on a reduction of themes from Béla Bartók’s Music For Strings, Percussion And Celesta.

With Leap Of Faith, Alexander followed the advice of his longtime friend Katz and pursued a project that radically departs from the norm, investigating a more expansive setting than the traditional bebop métier that has defined his artistry for decades. The resulting album is an honest depiction of one of today’s most burning tenor players, unleashed, at a pinnacle of raw passion.

JAZZIZ Johnathan Blake, “Bedrum”

Johnathan Blake, “Bedrum”

Johnathan Blake is one of the most accomplished drummers of his generation, and “Bedrum” shows that he is also a force of nature. This is one of the two solo-drum tracks from Blake’s new double-album Trion; an explosive and joyful percussive showcase that clocks in at almost three minutes. The rest of Trion is an invigorating exploration of the possibilities of the drum-sax-bass trio, with Blake playing alongside two other masters of their own instruments: saxophonist Chris Potter and Linda May Han Oh. Recorded live before a thrilled audience at New York City’s Jazz Gallery, Trion, out now, is the second release from Jimmy Katz’s Giant Step Arts, a non-profit with the single mission to help modern jazz innovators create their art free of commercial pressure.

New York Times Jason Palmer, ‘Herbs in a Glass’

Jason Palmer’s “Rhyme and Reason” is the first release from Giant Step Arts, a nonprofit dedicated to giving underappreciated but visionary jazz musicians the support they need to make quality live albums. Palmer is a perfect first subject for this: He’s a thrifty improviser with a vast dynamic range and an ambitious composer, but he’s hardly known. On “Herbs in a Glass,” the album’s opener, he propels his band mates (the tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, the bassist Matt Brewer and the drummer Kendrick Scott) through a squirrelly nine-beat rhythm; the odd, open-ended meter ends up pushing his intense melody into the plain air, giving it a billowy freedom. RUSSONELLO

WBGO Take Five Jason Palmer "Rhyme and Reason"

Jason Palmer, “Waltz For Diana”

A sharp, charismatic trumpeter with a refreshingly playful streak, Jason Palmer has released a succession of strong yet often-underappreciated releases over the last decade. His new double album, Rhyme and Reason, seems likely to garner some serious attention, and not just because it features an ace quartet with Mark Turner on tenor saxophone, Matt Brewer on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums.