Her Quintet - Jon Irabagon (alto saxophone), Jonathan Findlayson (trumpet), Stephan Crump (bass, subbing for John Hébert) and Ches Smith (drums) - is adept at negotiating the various twists-and-turns that Ms. Halvorson creates for them. Hers is music that shouts, screams, whispers, rocks, caresses, frolics and goes in unexpected directions, often within the song. This New Haven gig celebrates the release of "Bending Bridges" (Firehouse 12 Records), an exciting recording that jumps out at the listener from the opening moments. "Sinks When She Rounds The Bend (No. 22)" has a theme with melody lines for the trumpet and saxophone with a guitar counterpoint. Smith's conversational drums offer a 3rd counterpoint as the piece builds, erupting after the bass solo with distorted guitar driving up the intensity level. There is a "pop" feel to the opening rhythms of "Hemorrhaging Smiles (No 25)"that quickly give way solo sections for the rollicking Irabagon, melodic Findlayson and, later in the song, a fine trio-logue between guitar, bass and drums. One of the finer aspects of this music is how seamlessly any and all influences are woven into the fabric of the tunes. The trio track (no sax or trumpet) "Deformed Weight of Hands (No. 28)" sounds like James "Blood" Ulmer blended with Henry Threadgill and a dab of Captain Beefheart thrown in. This music may not "swing" in conventional but the forward motion is, at times, irresistible. Tempos rarely stay constant through the songs; yet, when Smith and Hébert lock into a groove (like they do on "All the Clocks (No 29)", the music soars even more. Even the ballad "That Old Sound (No. 27)" (another trio track) has amazing tension and intensity.
As one can clearly hear on "Bending Bridges", Mary Halvorson's music continues to evolve, growing in unexpected and delightful directions, an aural delight for fans of adventurous jazz. In person, the music is even more intense, more visceral, surprising and challenging. The Quintet plays 2 sets at Firehouse - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for tickets, call 203-785-0468 or online at firehouse12.com (where you can listen to excerpts from the CDs.)
Among the highlights is the fine re-arrangement of John Coltrane's "Naima". Originally arranged for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the voicings translate well to the quartet setting (Keezer's chordal work behind Locke is full and melodic while his solo is moves artfully between chords and single-note runs.) A strong gospel/soul music influence can be detected on the lovely Locke composition "This Is Just to Say" - the rhythm section plays so calmly, Keezer's keys fill the background and Locke creates a lovely melody, then a fine solo.
On the uptempo pieces, the rhythms section is equally impressive. Gully gets into the groove on "Darth Alexis" opening up the possibilities for Pope to really create counterpoint beneath the soloists. It's fun to hear the bassist and Keezer's left hand patrol the lower end. On the title track, Keezer's ringing piano chords float atop and then alongside the bass lines.
Most apparent from the opening moments through to the quiet finish, "Signing" is a group recording. Yes, the compositions and arrangements are top-notch but it's the interactions throughout that truly make this CD shine. For more information, go to lockekeezer.com.
Right in the middle of the program, Reed and guest vocalist Jose James create a smoky version of "'Round Midnight." This version sounds influenced by Gershwin's "Summertime" but the interplay of James' voice with the piano is impressive and Reed's solo (without a steady rhythm hand until near the end) stands out.
None of these players treats this music as museum pieces. In fact, in Eric Reed and company's hands, Thelonious Monk's compositions sound fresh and downright fun. For more information, go to www.ericreed.net.