Personnel: Matt Vashlishan (alto saxophone); Doug Bickel (piano); Dennis Marks (acoustic bass); Marko Marcinko (drums).
Audio Mixers: Dennis Marks; Kent Heckman.
Liner Note Authors: Bill Milkowski; Bob Mintzer.
Recording information: Red Rock Studio, Saylorsburg, PA (03/17/2009).
Photographer: Bill Keefrey.
The co-op ensemble of Florida-based performers/educators Doug Bickel and Dennis Marks is a thoroughly modern mainstream band that plays jazz with the conviction and fortitude that they also bring to teaching younger musicians about this tradition. The music, whether in straight-ahead swing with stretched-out sonorities, along with the art of improvising, all comes together in highly organized ways and means. Pianist Bickel and bassist Marks have a dynamic front line of saxophonists, with the promising alto saxophonist Matt Vashlishan alongside the great tenor and soprano master Dave Liebman, with formidable drummer Marco Marcinko rounding out this fine combo. While the leaders play their compositions and the band is in full support, there's a special vibe here from those who you may not have heard of prior, but should get to know right now. The very hip opener "Sparrows & Sidewinders" and "The Jazz Behemoth" are modal, modern, and compelling as standalone tracks, the former swinging in and out of neo-bop mojo with both saxophonists and Liebman's tenor quoting John Coltrane's "Mr. P.C.," while the latter cut finds Bickel's piano standing up and out on numerous rhythm or color changes. Vashlishan is a true find, with a unique sound and chops to burn, heard to good effect during the rebellious, bluesy at times "Turnover." Of course Liebman is always at his best as special guest with a so-called pickup group, but appreciates the configurations provided by Bickel/Marks for his lilting soprano feature "Finding Your Way" or beauteous ballad "On the Outside Looking In." Impressive playing is heard throughout, but even more so the freshness of the compositions provided by Bickel/Marks vaults these current-day jazz professors and practitioners to the head of any class. This recording comes with a hearty and unconditional recommendation. ~ Michael G. Nastos