“Christmas Gift,” the opening track from alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius’ disc Maybe Steps, bursts forth with voluminous strength, only to be quickly subdued by a deliberate dynamic shift. A more gradual, upward surge in intensity is heard on the brief, soulful swaying of “Bella’s Dreaming.” Perhaps not a groundbreaking approach to modern jazz composition, but the idea of using dynamics to enhance the music is a trait sadly missing from the wealth of mainstream disc’s being released. It is this type of attention to detail in presentation that helps Cornelius create a unique ensemble sound, placing his writing on equal footing with soloing.
Cornelius’ playing can be cutting and bold in one moment and soft and wistful in another. Capable of drawing out lengthy, winding lines, shaped with sense and purpose, he demonstrates schooled technique and street-savvy phrasing. Pianist Gerald Clayton solos wonderfully and accompanies with a sensitivity and grace beyond his years, holding things tightly in place with bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Kendrick Scott. Guitarist Miles Okazaki joins the quartet for a few tunes with blistering lyricism, especially on the breezy Latin groove of “Into the Stars” and a cover of George Shearing’s “Conception.”