Guitarist Jon Lundbom achieves his goal of breaking a few molds in a promising debut album, if not always as intended. Big Five Chord is a modern free jazz outing whose attempts to sound unconventional often are all-too-conventionaland vice versa. It's decent overall, but it may not propel the New York club veteran onto the national scene.
Lest anyone (i.e. Lundbom) call this review unclear on the concept, his web site promotes this 2004 release as "a jazz album, a rock album and a collection of genre-bending improvisational compositionswithout trying too hard to be any of these. The music of Big Five Chord places a tangible dedication to melody atop textures, harmonies and structures churning and flexing against the heritage of improvised musicthe idiomatic uncertainty of 'alt-jazz' at its best."
Early songs prove Lundbom, 24, competitive in this arena, interacting well with tenor saxophonist Dominic Lalli on the march-oriented "Duran, Duran, Duran" and lagging drone of "Fourteen By Sidle." On the first Lundbom mixes classic and West Coast licks with abrupt rock chord-crunching, sounding more natural than contrived in doing so. He's also impressive providing a rambling-yet-complimentary chord canvas for one of Lalli's few legitimate free playing ventures. The theme continues as both build up the intensity on "Fourteen," ignoring a beat that never alters its lethargy. It's pretty tasty stuff, but it hardly feels like a trip to somewhere new.
That changes on "Burning August," beginning with an exceptional hook fed by off-the-beat drums, a catchy R&B horn pairing and some contrary-yet-complimentary chord texturing by Lundbom. This gives way to a solo between Lalli and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, featuring some their finest fusion/blues playing that interacts and twists like serpents in heat.
Unfortunately, it doesn't sustain. On the slow R&B "Baby Lemonade" Lundbom and Lalli sound like individuals on two adjacent stages rather than a collaboration. Lundbom fires off another solo similar to his first on "The Muppet Lips" and Irabagon plays the upper registers so fast it sounds almost like a continuous bending tone on "Have You Ever Seen a Woman as Big as Martha," but Lalli turns in tepid straightforward and simplistic efforts on both.
Lalli redeems himself a bit with "Because We're Kids," a ballad so straightforward it's a pleasant surprise. His silky smooth work and Lundbom's mellow-out tone could be dropped into a Michael Brecker's collaborative album without arousing much suspicion.
So Lundbom may be disappointed to find himself in that conventional territory of first-timers releasing promising albums with lots of room for future development. But the album itself doesn't feel disappointingat least not in the sense of an inferior performer trying to ply his waresand those who come across it ought to give it an audition.
Samples from a few tracks and several unreleased full-length live songs can be found at his web site, www.jonlundbom.com .
Personnel: Jon Lundbom, guitar; Jon Irabagon, alto sax; Dominic Lalli, tenor sax; Moppa Elliott, bass; Justin Walke,