She gained a name as part of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt’s group and developed her own sound and leadership skills during a residency at Smoke Jazz Club in New York City, where this music was developed. Now Jeremy Pelt lends his remarkable talents to Coss’s cause along with the fine talents of Christ Pattishall, guitarist extraordinaire Alex Wintz, the inimitable Dezron Douglass on bass and, on drums, the sought-after Willie Jones III. Impressive and expressive, each and every one of them. Just a quick glance at the line-up makes your heart skip a beat…or two.
Sure, you can name several obvious influences like Coltrane, Shorter, the Jazz Messengers and more but, like Bruce Lee learning many different styles under different teachers, she has carved her own very distinctive sense and style of explosive expression that, again like Bruce Lee, will just beat your brains out. However, unlike Bruce Lee’s opponents, you will love every second of it. And now I have run that metaphor too far.
The album opens with the double-entendre titled Don’t Cross the Coss. As she reveals in her liner notes, Coss frequently has her name misspelled or mispronounced to Cross. Not only that, she continues, “I have strived to not be run over by the world.” In other words, do not mistake her name but don’t underestimate her, either.
Don’t Cross the Coss is straight-up Jazz. No frills, nothing cute, a frontal Jazz assault. I love it. Everyone is in on it from the start. Immediately, you hear Dezron Douglas and Willie Jones III with that tight work and the soft guitar of Alex Wintz in the background and Chris Pattishall’s piano in support. Coss gets the first solo, followed by Pattishall. I’m all in. That’s even before Jones takes his solo. Coss tone and delivery on the tenor sax is rich and fluid. This is excellent stuff.
Waiting comes next with the beautiful tones of Coss’s tenor sax leading the way. Coss describes it as the time between gigs or tours and learning to take control of the time. It’s like Robert DeNiro says in the movie Ronin when Stellan Skarsgaard says, “I hate this doing nothing!” DeNiro replies, “We’re not doing nothing. We’re waiting.” The expectancy of the waiting can be tremendously creative, as Coss has now proven.
The patient pace of the piece is full of movement in the midst of the “nothing.” The bass and drums are alive and kicking as the languid phrasing of Coss and the easy-going piano settle the mood. Coss has crafted a gorgeous melodic line that drifts effortlessly while the restless rhythm section pulses and paces. Pattishall offers a great piano solo that is so fine. Wintz’s guitar solo is as dynamic as we expect from him. Beautiful runs and ascending riffs. Waiting is not doing nothing. Coss makes it active and even adventurous.
With what has been learned in those periods of waiting, the drive to Push arises. Push is the next tune and Jeremy Pelt’s trumpet is like the bugle call to strive forward. Coss’s tenor sax answers that call and makes the same forward charge. Again, the rhythm section is smoking hot and Jones’s interludes are answered by trumpet then sax, then around again. The quintet pushes the theme to the end and closes the piece in unison. Nice.
Perspective follows next. What seems to take shape is an autobiographical them or, at least, an anthropological theme. The perspective that follows difficult times, times of doubt or even despair, is the message of Perspective. It is looking back with newly-gained insight or wisdom on what has transpired before.
Douglas’s bass opens the piece for Coss’s sax. The almost-haunting motif is carried by bass and sax alike before the Alex Wintz guitar passage brings its own viewpoint into a more optimistic run. Coss answers with renewed life and a changed mindset. The lessons experienced by the bass remain unchanged but the melodic wisdom has changed the whole…perspective.
Breaking Point focuses on the realization that things cannot remain the same. Roxy Coss herself says it best, “…this can often feel as if we are breaking apart into pieces. The multiple layers of saxophones represent these multiple pieces, our feelings tugging us in different directions until a single resolution is found. Breaking through, is how we feel when we come out of those experiences.”
Those layered soprano and tenor saxophones with trumpet are very expressive. Wintz’s guitar adds a color and texture alongside. Coss solos first with the soprano. Pattishall’s piano is engaging from behind and Douglas and Jones keep pushing the breaking point as Wintz rejoins the discussion. Wintz is a guy who, like Douglas and Jones, never ever disappoints. Breaking Point may be Wintz’s finest contribution on the album.
All that has gone before leads one to realize that Happiness is a Choice. As Coss says, “The most empowering feeling is having control over your own joy.” The piece starts with a bit of melancholy piano and bass behind the thoughtful tenor saxophone. The transition to a more joyful tone comes slow but certain. The piano interlude of like the back-and-forth inner debate that takes place in most humans and, when the sax returns, the choice has been made to relinquish the existential anxiety and seize joy. Exquisite.
Tricky is about situations and people. The quirky turns and changes reveal the situations and people for who they are. Coss is not speaking of seeing the flaws in others in order to reject them but to gain deeper understanding of who and what things are and stop fooling yourself about them…and your own self.
The music carries that message profoundly. The artistry of the musicians drives the message home but without rancor. Pay attention to Pattishall, Douglas and Jones as the piece approaches its conclusion.
The Story of Fiona is about a doomed relationship Coss once experienced, which was described as Fiona and Shrek. This is Fiona’s tale. Coss and Pelt open together followed by the piano. The horns begin their dialogue and they are not going in the same direction. The rhythm section sits back and lets them shriek it out until Shrek is out.
Almost My Own comes from a fragment of a friend’s song that Coss reshaped and reimagined until it was…well…what the title suggests. It is a lovely, lilting piece that is gorgeously harmonic. Douglas’ bass solo is a standout, crafting a narrative of imagination and tenderness. Pattishall’s piano builds on that theme in expansive, melodic ways. Coss takes over with a richly-toned tenor solo of her own. She and Pattishall work wonders together on the theme. A lovely tune.
Recurring Dream is about a dream Coss kept experiencing regarding a certain friend. The friend was always pushing people to be more genuine and true to themselves, she says. According to C.G. Jung, we are the all the people in our dreams. Coss figured that out and realized she needed to be more like her friend, more “genuine and unique.
Indeed, the tune opens in a surrealistic swirl of soprano sax, piano, bass and drums. Pattishall’s percussive playing is like the hammering of a vivid dream from which we cannot escape. The soprano sax ascends in an attempt to understand and to bring harmony to the moment. The resolution is brought about in the incorporation of the theme with the piano, guitar, bass and drums. In the end, the resolution is peace.
Restless Idealism is precisely the tone and theme of the entire album. Navigating the tight line between idealism and impending doom, Roxy Coss finds the middle way of determined purpose. The personal experiences and impressions are brought to full light with the stunning artistry of the musicians in her quintet. Each and every one of them perform with passion and emotion. The album is a work of personal charm and wonder.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl