WHAT'S IN A name? The makings of a lawsuit, it seems. Which is why the Metropolitan Bopera House is now known as the John Marshall-Tardo Hammer Bopera House. The play on words, apparently, didn't go over real big at the Met.
Still, despite the name change and some personnel shifts, Bopera House hasn't altered it course. The quintet is still exploring the bop roots of modern jazz with brashness and finesse on its latest, self-titled album. Founding member Marshall is in particularly good form, both as a lyrical trumpeter and as a composer whose works sit comfortably alongside tunes by Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Duke Pearson, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.
Not surprisingly, the up-tempo pieces are custom-tailored to the band's tandem and often feisty horn play -- Marshall's trumpet vying with Ralph Lalama's tenor sax on "Just One of Those Things," for example -- and to pianist Hammer's swift, ringing improvisations. However, not a few of the album's highlights involve slower, more melodic performances, including Marshall's contemplative reading of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and bassist John Webber's tender ballad "So Young." In fact, it's the more thoughtful pieces that help keep the bop formulas -- the locked horns and brief exchanges with drummer Tom Melito -- from sounding overworked.
THE JOHN MARSHALL-TARDO HAMMER BOPERA HOUSE -- "The John Marshall-Tardo Hammer Bopera House" (VSOP). Appearing Sunday at the National Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium and Monday at Blues Alley.