Jochen Rueckert Quartet at Smalls 12/13 +12/14/17 (by Jeff McGregor)

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PERSONNEL: Jochen Rueckert (drums), Mark Turner (tenor), Mike Moreno (guitar), Joe Martin (bass)

SET LIST 1:  Yellow Bottoms, 5-Hydroxytryptamine, Stretch Mark, The Alarmists, Alloplasty, Eggshells (all by Rueckert)

SET LIST 2: Purring Excellence, The Cook Straight, Charm Offensive, Bess, Eunice Park, The Itch (all by Rueckert)

SET LIST 3: Yellow Bottoms, 5-Hydroxytryptamine, Stretch Mark, Bess, Alloplasty, Eggshells (all by Rueckert)

SET LIST 4: Purring Excellence, The Cook Straight, Charm Offensive, The Alarmists, Eunice Park, The Itch (all by Rueckert)

HIGHLIGHTS: Even though they played the same music in almost the same order, each night sounded and felt very different. This was a compelling illustration of the quartet’s flexibility and spontaneity.

Jochen Rueckert’s quartet has been an excellent vehicle to showcase his impeccable drumming and unique compositional voice. Last year, he released the group’s third album, Charm Offensive, which featured the formidable frontline of saxophonist Mark Turner and guitarist Mike Moreno. This same frontline, along with bassist Joe Martin, joined Rueckert for these two nights at Smalls.

The quartet’s performance followed a short European tour where they had to contend with a variety of travel delays. Arriving back in New York a day late, the group had little time to rest before returning to the stage. Nevertheless, they showed no signs of fatigue. Both nights the group played masterfully, performing Rueckert’s compositions with authority and refinement. One of the most striking features of the performance was the warmth and unity of the group’s interaction. Rueckert and Martin are precise and virtuosic instrumentalists with an understated approach to accompaniment. This was perfectly suited to Moreno and Turner who improvise with exceptional control and poise.

Both nights were excellent, but the band found another level in the last set of the second night. Through burning tempos, Moreno and Turner took long and powerful solos and with each tune the group’s energy amplified. With musicians of this caliber, displays of virtuosity are not uncommon, but they are also not inevitable. The fireworks in the last set felt like something that developed organically over the two nights. It was not part of an agenda to dazzle the audience, and that is what made is so satisfying.

— By Jeff McGregor