With all the humor and quirkiness that makes up the package and personality of the physical CD itself, what one hears is on a whole different level. Ted Kooshian and his Standard Orbit Quartet play on a set of themes from cartoons, television series, movies and some more familiar tunes. Many of them went right over my ears, as a twenty-six year old, but that was okay, because a band of this caliber doesn’t need any gimmicks to make great music – the novel song choices are an added benefit. Kooshian, saxophonist Jeff Lederer, bassist Tom Hubbard and drummers Warren Odze and Scott Neumann play like a real band that has developed a deep chemistry. “Underdog” starts things out in an exciting fashion with a deep bass groove that gives way to an afro-Cuban feel. Neumann and Hubbard are like one voice, and Kooshian and Lederer also play off of each other wonderfully. Kooshian’s solo tells a story which is something refreshing and not all that common anymore. His ideas are all related to each other and his sense of melody is superb. He really gets inside the composition, thinking like a composer. The famous “Popeye” song starts off with the sounds of birds flying over the water and a boat leaving the dock. Kooshian makes things interesting by changing the time signature throughout the tune between triple, duple and odd meters and completely re-harmonizing the classic theme. “Powerhouse” brought me back to my childhood. After a solo rag style interpretation of the tune by Kooshian, the band gets very free with it, and suddenly I imagined Bugs Bunny on a horrible acid trip, wandering around in terror. Then it suddenly goes into a stiff march beat and I imagine Elmer Fudd on the hunt! At this point I realized how beautiful of an idea it is to tap into our childhood musical memories as fodder for serious improvisation. There is something very profound in the effect. Jeff Lederer’s sax playing is so diverse. At times he reminds me of Charlie Rouse, Sonny Rollins, or even Coleman Hawkins when he really wants to get sensual. This side of him is heard on “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The band shows a funkier side on “Little Lulu,” which makes for a good closer with its danceable rhythms and drum work and its R&B flavor. Some of the other tunes on the record include “Aja,” “Time Was,” Sanford and Son,” the “Barretta” theme, “Wild Wild West,” Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle,” “God Give Me Strength,” by Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello, and “The Odd Couple” theme. This group has a lot of fun playing, but they take what they do very seriously. This is one of those records where you can hear the players listening. You can hear their empathy and the fact that they are not focused on themselves. There is humility in their approach and plenty of group chemistry that will suck you right into their sound. The Underdog wins!
by Cathy Gruenfelder – Jazz Inside NY (2009)