by Jim Hynes, Glide Magazine
Quintet from composer and saxophonist Roxy Cosstakes on two meanings. It’s her fifth album and it’s rendered with a quintet. These are all Coss compositions, reimagined from previous albums along with her arrangement of “All of Nothing at All.” Coss is a perennial Downbeat poll contender on tenor and soprano sax. She possesses superior tone, plays with fire and imagination, and, unlike some of her perhaps more heralded peers, steers away from smooth jazz, playing in a straight-ahead and progressive style.
For nearly a decade now Roxy Coss has made her mark with noteworthy compositions and a robust, aggressive-but-never-squawking tone. As bandleader here, she leads a band comprised of pianist Miki Yamanaka, long-term member guitarist Alex Wintz, bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Jimmy MacBride. Earlier versions of the Roxy Coss Quintet dating to 2008 had a trumpet rather than a guitar, modeled on the Blue Note sax-led units of Wayne Shorter and Hank Mobley. At this time she was also playing in many other bands before landing a residency at New York’s Smoke, where she first started playing with Wintz. She claims that her writing changed at that time, feeling that a guitar could create different harmonics and textures. The rhythm section of Rosato and MacBride, though not tenured as long with Coss, are veterans. Pianist Yamanaka is the newest member.
The album begins with her signature tune, “Don’t Cross the Coss,” a hard bop romp that she leads on tenor. It first appeared on her 2016 release, Restless Idealism. The ensemble then transforms the eminently recognizable 1939 “All of Nothing At All,” a favorite of Sinatra, Billie Holiday and John Coltrane, into a more contemporary sound with Yamanaka on Fender Rhodes, keen soloing from Wintz, and a combination of both melody and improvisation from Coss on soprano.
The tone of the proceedings then changes dramatically as Coss rebukes POTUS 45 in “Mr. President,” using ominous tones and textures in the vein of Charles Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus.” This originally appeared on. It builds slowly and incrementally until exploding with crashing cymbals and dissonant tenor sax wails that segue into a somber military death march. In the mid-section, Coss and Yamanaka are playing like unleashed banshees before their vigorous dialogue recedes into a mournful passage, rescued at last with spirited ensemble work that ends abruptly.
“Free to Be” returns to a more spirited, swinging, intertwining instrument conversations with Coss again on expressive soprano, with Yamanaka and Wintz pushing her forward. Brazilian touches color “You’re There,” like the former from her 2017 Chasing the Unicorn. With the accent on melody, Coss’ tenor tone and her in simpatico chemistry with Wintz on his counter melodies and subtle comping is especially striking. The true ballad “Enlightenment” follows with Coss on tenor playing in the warm, sensual style of Ben Webster before taking up soprano on the up-tempo “Breaking Point,’ conversing again with Wintz, but leaving some room for Yamanaka’s Rhodes solo. The former is from her self-titled 2010 release while the latter is from Restless Idealism.
Politically-charged “Females Are Strong As Hell” was the centerpiece for the Future is Female and, as such, is a tenor workout in the vein of George Adams, a no-holds-barred aggressive tour de force, signifying that women have plenty of power and should be given equal opportunity. This is a mission that Coss embraces too as an educator on the Jazz Education Network’s board of directors, and on jazz faculty at the Juilliard School, the New School, and the Borough of Manhattan Community College (a CUNY school). She’s also the founder of Women in Jazz Organization.
Roxy Coss is truly passionate in every endeavor she undertakes. This is an energetic, imaginative, and emotional session. Her work with guitarist Wintz creates a dynamic that’s rarely heard. One can also easily envision Yamanaka grinning from ear to ear from the sheer joy of playing. This quintet brings the full gamut from blazing fire to subtle restraint.