By: Ron Schepper, Textura
If saxophonist Roxy Coss’s playing sounds particularly authoritative and assured on her fifth album, it may have a little bit to do with familiarity: rather than a collection of new material, Quintet presents invigorating fresh takes on tracks that, with the exception of an inspired treatment of “All or Nothing At All,” first appeared on her earlier releases. The title is significant, however: while she’s unquestionably the one in charge, the New Yorker’s Outside In Music debut is very much a band affair.
Her playing throughout is terrific, her prowess on both tenor and soprano repeatedly shown. Much the same could be said about the outfit as a whole when Coss, pianist Miki Yamanaka, guitarist Alex Wintz, bassist Rick Rosato, and drummer Jimmy Macbride roar through the tracks, their playing exemplifying urgency aplenty yet never so much that the performances lose focus or control. Coss’s quintet isn’t newly hatched, however, the group’s existence dating back to 2008, two years before the release of her eponymous debut. Wintz’s tenure with Coss began in 2012, with the others coming aboard thereafter and all featured on her fourth disc, 2018’s The Future Is Female.
As formidable she is as a player and bandleader, she’s as gifted as a composer. It’s easy to imagine any number of firebrands salivating at the prospect of tackling “Don’t Cross the Coss,” a lethal bop anthem first heard on her 2016 release Restless Idealism. The leader seems to have channeled the spirits of Parker and Gillespie for the rollicking tune, which follows its exciting head with a fabulous Coss solo that’s smooth and daring in equal measure. After this enticing sampling of her brawny tone, Wintz steps forward for a powerful statement of his own, his brash turn sweetened by Rhodes comping from Yamanaka. With Macbride adding to the individual spotlights, this thrilling, exhilarating ride comes across as something of a five-minute manifesto for the band.
Coss and company take “All or Nothing at All” for a grooving, funky ride, the leader wielding soprano and Yamanaka adding to its allure with electric piano. The tune’s familiar melodies are split between Coss and Wintz, she voicing the opening part and he the second in this Latin-tinged treatment. Like “Don’t Cross the Coss,” “Free to Be” argues strongly in support of her acumen as a composer when the swinging tune imbues the album with vibrancy. As high-octane as the album generally is, it stops to catch its breath for “Enlightenment,” a slow, romantic blues-ballad that sees Coss’s tenor revealing her tender side.
As illustrated by certain track titles, pointed themes emerge having to do with female empowerment and the State of the Union. The title of “Mr. President” allows for any number of interpretations, but the ominous, dirge-like tone of the music in the first minutes makes clear Coss’s feelings about the current administration. As if to suggest recovery is possible, the playing quickly enough leaves behind lugubriousness for uptempo playing with a soloing Coss at her high-powered, exuberant best—even if a reprise of the initial dirge rears its head towards the end. By comparison, the title of “Females Are Strong As Hell” leaves no doubt about where she stands, and certainly the furious solo she delivers against an equally furious backing supports the track title. (Coss, by the way, is the founder of Women in Jazz Organization, a collective currently boasting more than 300 professional musicians and which aims to achieve gender equity and combat misogyny in jazz culture.)
Make no mistake, Coss is no experimentalist or avant-gardist. Quintet lands us squarely in classic Blue Note territory, the music timeless and the performances tight, and one’s more inclined to draw connections from the playing to Mobley, Coltrane, and Shorter than Braxton and Threadgill. That Quintet is ‘in the tradition’ doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, though, when the material’s delivered with such conviction and when the playing, the leader’s in particular, is so dynamic.