How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Bottoms Out features some of the most innovative and imaginative improvisers on the scene today - musicians who have mastered the blues and bop but are also aware of the musical developments of the last thirty years in what is often pejoratively or derisively labeled "free" music. These five performances capture a large ensemble as exciting as any operating these days, playing straight-ahead with fire and extending the range of possibilities with unfailing musical sensibility.
Take the opening, Joe Fonda's "Song for My Mother/Mischief." The gentle theme evolves into a rollicking blues rapped out by drummer Kevin Norton. Trombonist Steve Swell takes a gutty tailgating solo that recalls the very best of the great Roswell Rudd. Hard to top, but baritone saxophonist David Schumacher follows him unaccompanied and takes things even farther. Then the instrumentalists come together in a glorious frenzy evoking the outrageous climaxes of Mingus' The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.
Scott Miller's compositions, which fill out the balance of the disc, are engagingly and intricately constructed to make maximum use of this large ensemble, allowing for all the soloists - particularly Fonda, Norton, the stunningly versatile pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, and Swell - to show their tremendous abilities. They need those abilities, for Miller's compositions are loaded with unexpected twists. This is jazz and improvised music of the highest quality. Recommended.
Scott Miller, composer; Joe Fonda, b; Kevin Norton, d; Michael Jefry Stevens, p; Mark Whitecage, as; David Bindman, cl, ts; David Schumacher, bari s (#'s 1-3); Robert DeBellis, bari s (#4); Sam Furnace, bari s (#5); Steve Swell, tbn (#'s 1-4); Jim Leff, tbn (#5).
Track listing: Song for My Mother/Mischief / No Second Troy / Massa's in the Cold, Cold Ground / Over the Sea Waltz / Spencer Lane Extension.