• photography by Clara Pereira / text by Filipe Freitas

On Friday, November 4th, the New York-based Canadian tenor saxophonist Andrew Rathbun filled the bandstand of Cornelia Street Cafe, a Greenwich Village stalwart, with a resourceful quintet that drew mostly from his last album Numbers & Letters, released in 2014 on the Danish label SteepleChase.
In addition to the experienced bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Bill Stewart, who were both featured on the album, we listened to pianist Gary Versace and trumpeter Tim Hagans, who replaced Phil Markowitz and Taylor Haskins, respectively.

The room was packed for the second set, which comprised four long tunes, starting with a waltz entitled “Tears and Fears” whose very contemporary feel was enhanced by Rathbun and Hagans. The former poured out eloquent phrases based on consistently flowing ideas, while the latter boasted his powerful attacks with a persistent inclination to explore ‘outside’.

Just like the first piece, “Pencil and Paper” was also inspired by Rathbun’s daughter, advancing resolutely at the sound of Stewart’s snare drum rolls, which recalled Art Blakey at some point. Consciously or not, the bandleader also evoked Art Blakey’s version of "Ugetsu", when, in order to conclude his improvisation, he blew a phrase used by Wayne Shorter on that tune. In turn, Versace opted to design a continuous piano surge that incorporates classical and electronic music influences, while Anderson infused ominous bass contortions during the first minutes of Hagan’s solo. From then on, he swings aplomb alongside Stewart, a nimble operator of the rhythm.

After a modal, Coltrane-style excursion that felt genuinely emotional, the quintet closed with “Bad Call”, a fulminant final punch that whether strides or swings in accordance with its structural passages. The solos were impactful, starting by Rathbun, fiery in language and versatile on timbre, then Hagans, unafraid to take risks at every blow, and Versace, whose wry voicings are consistently interlaced with rapid melodic enunciations.

Rathbun’s compositional art was noticeable and the quintet's forward-looking drive got everyone in the room energized.