In a 2009 extempore interview, Vince Jones said, “For the band to work, the chemistry needs to have, first of all, the purest form of democracy, then empathy, then, of course, enjoying each others’ playing or singing.” On Cosmos, Steve Hunter’s ninth full-length album as bandleader, and his first live one, recorded at 505, all three elements are at work. From the first few bars of opener, ‘The Kingston Grin’, this project sounds like a smart, spontaneous dialogue between musicians who understand Hunter’s compositions almost as well as if they’d penned them themselves.
Several of the album’s seven tracks have been laid down in the studio before, but this is the first time they’ve received the live recording treatment. Unsurprisingly, the process reveals just how good Hunter’s compositions are. Not only do they work as more tightly arranged pieces, they also hold their own when opened up as vehicles for lengthy improvisation. That’s not just any improvisation, by the way – it’s Hunter in league with three of Australia’s most agile and imaginative players: pianist Matt McMahon, saxophonist Matt Keegan and drummer Andrew Gander. None is lacking the skill or guts to knock down a boundary or several.
The evocative, flamenco-esque ‘Cazador’, which first appeared on 2007’s Dig My Garden, becomes a more menacing piece, underpinned with Gander’s controlled yet urgent drumming and McMahon’s dynamic harmonic colours, while ‘Habitat’, from 2008’s Nine Lives, become earthier and more driven. Another standout is penultimate track, ‘Area 51’, a stirring tribute to five jazz greats who died at 51 – pianists Bill Evans and Roger Frampton, saxophonists Dave Ades and Bob Berg, and drummer Tony Williams.