“Underdog, and Other Stories…” (Summit), by pianist Ted Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet, is an album of movie, television and cartoon melodies plus a few pop and jazz themes. The Quartet combines deadpan humor with deadly technique. While it respects the inherent beauty in tunes such as Miguel Prado’s “Time Was,” Richard Markowitz’s “Wild, Wild West” and Henry Mancini’s “Breakfast at Tiffany,” it charts its own ingenious course that is more traditional than radical.

Kooshian, who arranged all the tunes, has an ear for novel settings: “Popeye” as a minor-chord workout for saxophonist Jeff Lederer’s soprano, “Wild, Wild West” as a gospel text for piano, tenor saxophone and bass solos, Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” as a (partly) stride piano display… The tango-like beat of the title track unleashes Lederer for some of his best tenor work, wherein he fits increasingly complex lines in the structure of the rhythm section accents. He is also hot throughout “Little Lulu,” with its joyous, funky New Orleans-flavored groove.

Kooshian and his rhythm mates (bassist Tom Hubbard and drummer Warren Odze or Scott Neumann) are a happy-sounding trio; i.e., happy to be playing together. While they and Lederer display technique to burn, the Quartet avoids competitive, academic jousting and, instead, digs deeper into the performances with individual personalities, humor and soul.

by Owen Cordle – News And Observer – North Carolina (2009)