The life of a professional musician typically requires stretching beyond a single genre to insure a healthy career. Pianist David Cook is a jazz pianist and composer of the highest order. He also wears another hat as a musical director in the realms of pop, folk, and blues. Returning to jazz and his incredible quintet is as much a pleasure for him as for his listeners, as heard on his new recording, Loyal Returns.
Originally from Ohio, Cook settled in New York City in 1999. His career in music has required him to split his time between his own jazz related projects and being a musical director for big name acts like Taylor Swift, Shoshana Bean, and Shayna Steele. Even with all these divergent tasks, Cook remains true to first love: jazz.
The pianist takes inspiration from the entirety of the jazz canon but has been particularly attracted toward blending the classic quintet sounds of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with the sounds of more contemporary practitioners, like Kneebody and Fred Hersch’s quintet. Cook’s music therefore blends straight ahead with a certain ethereal, through composed feel, with a groove ever present.
For Loyal Returns, Cook looks to his quintet whose core was central to his last two recordings on the Brooklyn Jazz Underground label. Cook enlists the group’s tenor saxophonist and longtime friend, Ben Wendel, as producer for the new recording. Wendel’s expertise in arranging and structuring helps the band sound even better.
The rest of the group is an astounding assembly of New York’s finest players. Trumpeter Philip Dizack is a more recent collaborator whose accuracy and adventurousness are ideal for the spirit of Cook’s music. Bassist Matt Clohesy is one of Cook’s longest friends and is the glue to the ensemble. Drummer Kendrick Scott’s painterly touch and exquisite rhythm prove that he is one of the best drummers in the world.
Writing for quintet is a challenge that Cook enjoys confronting. The addition of two horns, which are equally important to the music as the rhythm section, requires that the composer understand the ranges of the instruments along with the personalities of their players. Whereas Cook would generally write pieces with the piano in mind, on these pieces he tends to think horn first. Cook’s goals were to write pieces that tell a story while allowing space for the quintet members to express their voices freely.
The writing of the pieces was helped tremendously by a weeklong stay at Stephan Diethelm’s studio in Muri, Switzerland when Cook was between tours with Lizz Wright and Shayna Steele. Cook recorded the material with the quintet, along with engineers Chris Benham and Nate Wood, at Big Orange Sheep studio in Brooklyn.
The recording begins with an aggressive love letter to New York City, “The Flaw (In My Business Model),” which takes its title from a friend’s quip about having to drag his bass to gigs all over the city for work. The contemplative “Hawks” was originally written for a trio of tenor, piano, and bass. Here it becomes a floating, impressionist ballad with lovely tonal colors provided by the fleshed-out arrangement. Written as a tribute to his Muri host, “Blues In Muri” is an deliciously elastic blues that features brilliant performances from Clohesy and Cook.
The warm “St. Lawrence” is named for the street adjacent to Cook’s New Jersey home where he spent long hours walking, talking, and enjoying time with his daughter during the pandemic’s grasp. “Visitor from Everywhere” is a short tribute to the seemingly simple yet complex music that Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter were so expert at creating. The effervescent “Party Song” is a fun to play “almost blues” that contains some syncopated twists and turns that drummer Scott nails.
The title track provides an upbeat clarion call in contemplation on loyalty, whether it is getting calls to play after the quiet of the pandemic or the rewards you receive from being loyal to another. The uplifting “Brighter Places” was written as a piano duo for Dizack and Cook, whose addition of a piano vamp and Wendel’s sympathetic tenor took the piece somewhere else entirely. The recording concludes with the cyclically arranged solo piano piece, “Night Circle, where Cook finds new qualities in each chord as he approaches them differently each time, the piece finally sounding like a cadenza to the prior piece, “Brighter Places.”
The rewards of coming home to his own sound world and musical friends is reason enough for David Cook to feel content. His new recording, Loyal Returns, is a whole-hearted tribute to the comradery of music making.