Though jazz has suffered a long decline in popularity, both internationally and in this area, little has slowed its vessels, the players, from forging ahead. Pianist Martin Eagle is one of those steadfast souls. On Tomorrow, he and a core trio and two guests run through a set of one-take, mid-tempo improvisations with a solid swing bouncing throughout.
Set against high-flying post-free jazz acrobatics, these numbers recall the mellow beauty of jazz's piano-led groups of the 1960s. While it would be easy for a technically astute ensemble like this to do a study of that exploratory bop era, as true Ornette Coleman-style free jazz was emerging, this isn't just a cold reading of a form. It radiates the warmth of several men in a room, tuned into the conversation taking place, and moving within it gracefully.
The players around Eagle—bassist Peter Innocenti, drummer Jeff Crouze, saxophonists Ron Baxter and Andy Paolantonio—come from esteemed jazz backgrounds. Eagle's backstory also led him to this comfort level with the music. With stints in New York and Los Angeles, he played piano with stars like Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Charlie Haden. He wrote in the pop realm, too, penning more than 30 tracks for the likes of "Mama" Cass Elliot and Bobby Bare. In 1985, he landed in the Triangle; Cool Shooz, his first band here, recorded two albums.
On the hottest hard-bop tune, "Float Your Boat," the group cruises, floating on a steady groove that they're able to duck and bob in and around, effortlessly, a testament to those developed skills. Local jazzheads, listen: If you've been out of the loop, look no further. This flame burns bright in your backyard.
Martin Eagle and Peter Innocenti play Sullivan's Steakhouse Tuesday, May 26, at 8 p.m.