Saxophonist and composer Roxy Coss’ fifth release as a leader is the captivating and plainly titled Quintet. The brevity of the album’s appellation belies the delightful complexity within, as Quintet bears Coss’ trademark balance of intricacy, accessibility, and social awareness.
Although most of the originals here have appeared on past records, their interpretation is refreshingly novel and somewhat more intimate than their previous iterations. The ebullient “Don’t Cross the Coss,” for instance, features Coss’ muscular and fiery tenor that intriguingly contrasts with guitarist Alex Wintz’s cool, eloquent strings. Their exchanges glide effortlessly over the rhythm trio’s soulful groove.
As on previous works, Coss includes several pieces that reflect her activism. “Mr. President” opens with an ominous march. The band members contribute a melee of dissonant notes before their individual voices coalesce into a foreboding yet mellifluous tune. Slowly, the group performance becomes energetic and passionate, with a tinge of melancholy and bursts of anger. Coss’ wailing, gritty tenor crashes against drummer Jimmy Macbride and bassist Rick Rosato’s riotous and explosive thumps and thrums. Pianist Miki Yamanaka lets loose a crystalline and fast-tempo sonic cascade with emotive, intelligent, and spontaneous twists and turns.
Elsewhere, the passionate “Females Are Strong As Hell” features Coss’ fast and furious, sinewy lines over rumbling beats. Wintz’s rapid-fire phrases rise and fall over Yamanaka’s contrasting and complementary chords. Macbride exhibits breathtaking agility as he concludes the piece with a thundering solo.
Coss demonstrates her virtuosity on the soprano saxophone on the expansive “Free to Be.” Her serpentine, meandering improvisation embellishes the melody with elegance and grace. Wintz marks his captivating extemporization with sparse strums and acerbic tones. His shimmering chords interweave with the group’s effervescent vamps, creating a lyrical tapestry.
On her debut for the Outside In label, Coss continues to showcase her excitingly unique sound and mature style. She also demonstrates that angry vocals and profane lyrics are not necessary to make urgently relevant and politically engaged music.