If you are looking for that no-nonsense hard bop sound, then you have come to the right place. On “Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak”, Anthony E. Nelson Jr and his crew of five side men deliver ten original jazz tunes played with imagination and a lot of soul. Most would categorize this in the hard bop file, but this is hard bop of the more abstract style along the lines of latter day Art Blakey, or early Herbie Hancock. The Hancock comparison is furthered by pianist Brandon McClure, whose mixture of sophisticated blues and impressionism definitely recalls the young Herbie. Nelson’s main influence would seem to be Coltrane, as his sound is reminiscent, and he is also apt to pepper his solos with Coltrane quotes, along with re-arranged quotes from others as well. Being the top soloists on board, Nelson and McClure handle the lion’s share of the solos, but some tunes allow the others a ride as well.
With three horns on board, Nelson is able to add interest to his opening melodies by arranging in a mini-big band style. Tracks like, “Never too Late”, allow the horns to engage in some contrapuntal intersecting lines, while “Blessed are Those that Mourn”, uses the horns to paint pastel colors ala Herbie’s “Speak like a Child” album. Possibly the biggest plus on here is the fact that all of this music is original, and many of the tunes measure up well against better known standards. Any musician looking for a possible ‘new standard’ on this CD should check out “I’ll be a Fool”, which sports an infectious be-bop like melody that is hard to get out of your head.
A quick glance at the song titles will tell you that Nelson is heavily influenced by his Christian faith and seeks to use his music to worship God. Anthony calls his music “gospel jazz”, and although almost all hard bop has a bit of gospel to it, the only overt gospel number on here is closing ballad, “More than Rubies”. Anyone who does not want their jazz watered down with artificial sweetener, or passing trends, will want to check out “Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak”, not only can these guys play, but they can also compose and arrange with the best of them.