Jason Palmer – ‘At Wally’s Volume 2’ (Album Review)

When one thinks of music in Boston, “jazz” may not be the first word that comes to mind. This is understandable – the amount of venues where one can frequently see jazz pales in comparison to New York City, which is only a little over 4 hours away via bus. That being said, there are still quality series and venues in Boston that regularly feature jazz, such as Mandorla Music, the Lilypad, the Regattabar, and most frequently, Wally’s.

Wally’s is a jazz bar that has been around since 1947. Music can be found there every single day night of the week. In its long life, the bar has been host to legends including Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday. Trumpeter and Berklee faculty member Jason Palmer regularly performs at Wally’s and whether he is performing with established professionals or rising students, his name alone is a guarantee that the late set on Friday or Saturday, which starts around 10:30, will be top quality. Palmer’s latest recording, At Wally’s Volume 2, is set in the historic bar. The album gives a strong argument that, despite the gripes the jazz-inclined of Boston may have with occasionally having to get on the bus to see their favorite band, they are a bit lucky to have such frequent access to such a talented player.

This record, just like Volume 1, gives the listener a fascinating look into a classic night at Wally’s. For those that frequent the bar, the set list will feel uniquely Wally’s – it’s nothing but Palmer originals. Although there are only five tunes on the record, each number is stretched to its limits, giving Palmer and his talented band ample room to express themselves. The trumpeter is joined by Noah Preminger (tenor saxophone), Max Light (guitar), Simon Wilson (bass), Lee Fish (drums) and Chris McCarthy, who plays the fender rhodes on the closer, “Cheas.”

The album opens with an unaccompanied solo by Palmer on “Ethos”, before the rest of the band, most notably Fish, comes in with a rapid tempo. Palmer blazes through the first solo, playing with such creativity and skill that it’s easy to forget just how long the trumpeter seems to effortlessly go on. The next track, “Style”, features a cool melody from the horns that manages to be active and laid back at the same time. The dynamic between Fish and Preminger, the saxophonist playing brief, soulful solo phrases before laying out for Fish’s drum breaks, makes the song a great listen.

Fish is again at the heart of things on “Sunny Rain”, which he opens with a thunderous solo. The song, which features a catchy descending theme pulsing throughout the majority of its twenty-minutes, is arguably Palmer’s writing at its best. The band then reaches “The Side Eye”, where beautiful melodic lines from Palmer and Preminger weave in and out of each other, showing that the years together at Wally’s have birthed a great understanding between the two musicians.

At Wally’s Volume 2 is Palmer in his element. The record has a strong focus on solos that puts his impressive technical ability and extremely agile approach to his instrument on full display. This, combined with the high quality of the compositions, produces a consistently entertaining listen.

At Wally’s Volume 2 the latest album by Jason Palmer, is out now on SteepleChase.

Jason Palmer (trumpet, compositions)
Noah Preminger (tenor saxophone)
Max Light (guitar)
Simon Wilson (bass)
Lee Fish (drums)
Chris McCarthy (fender rhodes on “Cheas”)