How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Fierce is alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius' second album as leader, following his self-produced 2006 debut, Lucid Dream. It's an album on which the young Berklee and Manhattan School of Music graduate explores his love of the chord-less jazz ensemble, with no piano, guitar or organ heard on these nine original compositions.
Cornelius is joined here by the solid but swinging rhythm section of drummer Johnathan Blake and bassist Michael Janisch; Cornelius appeared on Janisch's Purpose Built (Whirlwind Recordings, 2010), and both are co-founders of the TransAtlantic Collective, whose debut , Traveling Song (Woodville Records), appeared in 2009.
Cornelius' alto playing has a richness and humanity to itit's a refreshing and lyrical sound that creates a warm and often mellow mood. Janisch's bass playing has an earthy quality, a ruggedness that is particularly evident in his solos; it's very much the core of the group. Blake provides an intriguing contrast to Janischlight, elastic, and always complementary to the lead instruments. The rhythm players are also given plenty of opportunity to shine; Janisch and Blake's interplay on "One Thing" is a joy.
"Maybe Steps," a trio performance, typifies the style at which this combination excels: a lovely melody, emphasized by beautifully-controlled performances from all three musicians. "First Dance" has a slightly harder edge, mainly due to Janisch's bass playing, even though its central melody is weaker than that of "Maybe Steps." Cornelius makes his alto skip and jump on "Hopscotch," just like a small child playing the game. "Home with You" is the album's most emotive tune, with Cornelius' performance precise and affecting, as Janisch and Blake work together to create an empathic and beautiful rhythm.
add some power and body to a couple of tracks. Small's playing on "First Dance" gives the tune a smoky, late-night feel, while "New Blues" really swings, with Blake in excellent form as Vayenas, Cornelius and Janisch contribute some punchy solos.
Although Cornelius is the leader and sole composer on this album, Fierce sounds like a democratic recording, with every musician contributing key ideas and performances. The title, however, is something of a misnomer. Fierce isn't actually fiercenot Grrrr fierce, anyway. This is not an angry, aggressive or threatening recording; instead, it is a warm, inviting and often rather measuredthoughtful, considered and reflectivecollection of lovely tunes.
Track Listing: Fierce; Hopscotch; Maybe Steps; Two Seventy-Eight; First Dance; The Incident; Home with You; One Thing; New Blues.
Personnel: Patrick Cornelius: alto saxophone; Michael Janisch: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums; Nick Vayenas: valve trombone (4, 6, 9); Mark Small: tenor saxophone (5).