Like a lot of jazz artists who are generally cast in a supporting role, bassist Tommy Cecil is best known for his nimble facility as a musician and collaborator.
"Samba for Felix," emphasizes that aspect of Cecil's prowess as well, but it also provides listeners with a broader view of his talents since it includes five original, well-wrought tunes that conjure a variety of moods and emotions.
None is more invigorating than the album's title track, a piece dedicated to the late Washington jazz broadcaster Felix Grant and a splendid showcase for saxophonist Gary Bartz's fulgent alto. Swiftly paced, bright and curvaceous, the tune inspires a wonderfully vibrant performance from Bartz, who occasionally evokes images of fellow saxman Sonny Rollins infusing a calypso tune with enormous thrust. Bartz eventually yields to a typically flowing and elegant improvisation by pianist Tommy Flanagan and a series of decidedly percussive acoustic guitar choruses from Paul Bollenback. Flanagan, arguably the finest jazz pianist working today, is reason alone to hear this recording. Particularly enjoyable is his after-hours musing on "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," which unfolds in a refreshingly low-key manner, and his buoyant contribution to another standard, Lerner and Loewe's lovely ballad "The Heather on the Hill."
While the latter tune is graced by drummer Billy Hart's subtle brush and cymbal work and Cecil's supple underpinning, some of the original tunes finds the entire cast, including percussionist Cyro Baptista, contrasting the album's more alluring pleasures with an aggressive, rhythmically infectious attack. It's a combination that invites repeat listenings.
Appearing Wednesday at Blues Alley. To hear a free Sound Bite from Tommy Cecil, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8101. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)