Describing the NYSQ’s beginnings, David Berkman recalls: “We were at the period where we’d all done a lot of original recordings of our own music, as composers and leaders; and then, through a series of circumstances, we came together as a quartet with the particular mission of taking on standards, but arranging them to create a feeling that was similar to the original albums we recorded. It soon became apparent that audiences really got into the idea and the fun of seeing how we would expand the harmonic, tonal and rhythmic aspects into a more modern frame while always referencing the music’s origins.”
This is a band that regularly plays and performs together, so there’s a common bond which brings out the best in the arrangements they conjure. Recorded at the end of an international tour – in the beautiful, mountainous location of Lake Yamanaka, close to Mount Fuji (the quartet enjoys a special affinity with Japan) – Sleight of Hand’s eight numbers reflect the band’s spontaneous, transformational approach, with the title track (based on Gershwin’s ‘But Not For Me’) irresistibly playful.
1940s song ‘Detour Ahead’ – perhaps mostly familiar in composer Herb Ellis’s guitar setting – translates into a luscious alto and piano-led ballad, sensitively buoyed by Yasukagawa’s bass shaping; Jules Styne/Sammy Cahn favorite ‘I Fall In Love Too Easily’ is treated to sparkling, percussion-led animation; and Armacost’s rich tenor lyricism in Duke Ellington’s ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ is ravishingly restrained.
David Berkman relates that the NYSQ’s journey continues to energize them: “Going into the recording studio is still as challenging as it is enjoyable, though I guess we feel like we don’t need to prove anything anymore! And though we like to pull out obscure tunes, it’s also important to include touchstones for our listeners, as everyone relates to them emotionally – there’s still a lot of awareness there. These are such great melodies, you can do almost anything with them – and, as always with improvisation, that sense of ‘What’s happening today?’ remains exciting. It’s all about a moment.”
1. Soul Eyes 09:28
2. Ask Me Now 07:38
3. In a Sentimental Mood 03:29
4. Sleight of Hand 07:54
5. I Fall in Love too Easily 05:33
6. This I Dig of You 07:48
7. Detour Ahead 08:04
8. Lover Man 07:41
Tim Armacost - tenor, soprano saxophones
David Berkman - piano
Daiki Yasukagawa - double bass