Extension Deadline Review - Baltimore City Paper

By Geoffrey Himes City Paper
10:47 p.m. EST, February 17, 2015

One of the great jazz traditions in New York is the Monday-night performances by the Mingus Big Band at the Jazz Standard. When I heard them there on Jan. 12, the top soloists were saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, trombonist Frank Lacy, and trumpeter Alex Norris. Norris, of course, grew up in Howard County and teaches jazz part time at the Peabody Institute. And at the Jazz Standard’s bar, he told me he’d be holding the special “pre-release" show for his new album, “Extension Deadline," at Peabody on Jan. 27.

The show, in Peabody’s Joe Byrd Hall, was led by Norris in a baggy black suit. At his right shoulder was Baltimore native and tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas, director of Peabody’s Jazz Studies program. Behind Norris on the B-3 Hammond organ was his fellow Howard Countian, George Colligan, who now teaches at Oregon’s Portland State University. On drums was the one non-Marylander, Rudy Royston, the anchor of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s new, astounding Bird Calls band.

The quartet played all eight tunes from the new album, six by Norris, one by Colligan, and a ballad from Bobby Hutcherson. The title track, so named when Norris was sweating deadlines for both his taxes and a recording date, was a brisk hard-bop number with an easily remembered theme announced by Norris’ trumpet and countered by Thomas’ sax. As on the terrific studio version, the live version was pushed along by Colligan’s stabbing organ chords, a bass line tapped out on the organ’s foot pedals, and Royston’s restless ramble across his entire kit.

Most of Norris’ originals were in a similar vein, strong melodic material offered at a quickened tempo and then twisted into new shapes in a series of solos. ‘What Happened Here’ did this in an odd meter, and ‘Where Angels Fear’ lent a push-and-pull stutter to the momentum. ‘Red Flag’ set a new melody to the chord changes for ‘What Is This Thing Called Love.’ Norris switched to flugelhorn to display a more tender tone on the more relaxed tunes, his own ‘Night Watchman’ and Hutcherson’s ‘Little B’s Poem.’ The evening was a great introduction to a fine album.