Some recordings jolt listeners with new ideas that take the music in previously unimagined directions. Others combine familiar sounds in a manner that still manages to feel fresh thanks to the players’ skills and ability to bring out the best in each other. Movement, the new album by Kobie Watkins’ five-piece Grouptet, falls into the latter category, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.
Bandleader and composer Watkins, a drummer and percussionist, prominently displays his skills throughout. No matter the pace of a particular track, his propulsive stick work pushes his band mates — saxophonist Jonathan Armstrong, trumpet/flugelhorn player Ryan Nielsen, keyboardist Justin Nielsen and upright bassist Aaron Miller — to keep their focus sharp and their intensity high.
On “Catch This,” for example, Latin rhythms underpin a punchy yet swinging brass arrangement that builds to an ecstatic peak. It’s the kind of wild conclusion plenty of combos would use as an exclamation point at the end of an album — but it’s Movement’s first track. The excitement continues on “The City,” blessed by an especially ripe Ryan Nielsen solo and impossibly tight interplay between Watkins and Miller. “Falling Upward” is edgier, with inspired chording by the track’s composer, Justin Nielsen. And a cover of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” boasts such an infectious groove that any fragile object within swiveling distance of your hips is in danger.
Other offerings are more contemplative, including “Six Moods,” which showcases each member yet still feels like a single entity rather than a loosely linked collection of individual parts. Likewise, the mid-tempo burner “Inner Motion” finds the instrumentalists stretching out without losing any of their combined power.
Throughout, the tunes remain solidly within the tradition rather than attempting to burst through it. But the Grouptet’s strengths prove that the tried and true needn’t to be staid and dull.— Michael Roberts
Feature photo by André Gualdi