By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
Being a fan of classic quintets, I wasn’t put off at all by the opening bars of “Hall Ways,” the first selection on Chicagoan Zubin Edalji’s debut album Four Windows. Memories of Miles and Wayne—or maybe Lee and Wayne, or maybe Freddie and Wayne, or Lee and Joe, or Blue and Junior—were conjured by the propulsive modal expression of Edalji’s trumpet and teammate Matthew Muñeses’ tenor sax, as the title-referenced Dana Hall channeled Tony Williams from behind and Clark Sommers dutifully, Carteresquely, laid down the beat, while the not-often-heard pianist Kenny Werner dropped his melodic, swinging, Flanigan-ish interval.
Sorry to name drop, but it was difficult not to notice the musical associations and notable friends Edalji gathered to record his lyrical and playful compositions. Add to the list Tito Carrillo as producer and Vijay Tellis-Nayak as mixer and masterer, and one should be convinced to give this album a try.
Largely, the music prevails. Given the participants’ pedigree, it would be difficult to imagine the proceedings being a failure, but without good music to play, all-star casts have produced mediocre results. Edalji provides good music, and all the musicians sound great. Edalji is appreciative of his mentors, and on Four Windows he gives them plenty of space and opportunity, even as he and Muñeses reveal a deft partnership at the forefront, impressively displayed with Carrillo’s touch.
By his own admission, Edalji likes to write compositions that become roots of other pieces, so when you listen to “Concept OverHalled,” you may recognize the horn melody (reminiscent of Miles’ and Wayne’s work) related to the album’s title cut, with a difference being a more vigorous and isolated presence from Mr. Hall, thus the “overhalling” of the concept.
And it would be fair and correct to think that some of the ballad “Some of the Things You Are” and its partner, “All or Any” is based on “All the Things You Are.” Of the two, “All or Any” messes with the classic melody a bit more, including a terrific contribution from Werner and some of Sommers’ best playing. But, as mentioned below, the song just ends, something that occurs often on this recording. Perhaps Edalji had something suite-like in mind, and a couple times it works.
Amidst all this inventiveness are some gems, two of them concerning “rain.” “First Rain” begins with an intermittent Werner-Sommers duet that leads to a harmonic trumpet-sax melody upon a bouncy rhythm that sure sounds like Lee and Wayne. Then “Rain Play Act I” lifts the pace considerably. Hall’s pocket is impressive as Edalji glides through his intro into Muñeses’ deeply swinging follow-up, a very Blakey/Messengers expression. “Rain Play Act II” is a continuation of the preceding, a delayed encore.
Werner, who clearly is treasured by his mentee, gets a special moment with “Eventless Chance,” a wonderfully recorded trio effort that exemplifies the synchronicity he has on this album with Sommers. And the pianist has the last word, too, with a brief solo “Spacegate” at the end.
The only qualm I would have is that the creative flow of the tunes seems truncated at times, making me wonder where the music would go if played live. Edalji writes attractive and enticing figures that aim to shine appropriate light on the players.
Four Windows is yet another debut from a talented Chicago jazz player that reflects keen development and huge potential. One hopes Zubin Edalji and Matthew Muñeses can keep attracting Chicago’s finest—especially Cariilo and Tellis-Nayak—while moving forward with extensions of classic modern art.
Zubin Edalji, Four Windows. Independently released, 2023.
Zubin Edalji, trumpet
Matthew Muñeses, tenor saxophone
Kenny Werner, piano
Clark Sommers, bass
Dana Hall, drums
About Jeff Cebulski
Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org