A lot can happen when a bandleader makes seemingly minor changes in standard jazz instrumentation. Frank Kimbrough’s Noumena, for instance, omits the bass. Saxophonist Scott Robinson occasionally puts down his tenor to play bass saxophone — an elephantine instrument that one practically has to climb onto, like a tractor. While the bass sax doesn’t cut through, mix-wise, the way a double bass would, it does give Noumena’s music an extra dose of unpredictability. Combining with Robinson on saxophones and the leader on piano are two suitably outward-bound musicians: guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Tony Moreno.
The absence of bass sets the stage for arresting colors and combinations. Kimbrough solos on "Passage," solidly in tempo and supported only by Moreno’s drums. When Robinson takes over as soloist and Kimbrough comps, the swinging yet ethereal duo work of Dave Liebman and Richard Beirach comes to mind. The order/chaos conundrums posed by "Ancestor" recall Paul Bley’s quartet with Bill Frisell, John Surman, and Paul Motian. But Noumena is distinguished from its historical antecedents by Kimbrough’s compositional voice, which shines through most clearly on the wall-of-sound vamp of "Four By Four" and the hypnotic descending line of "Svengali."
Next to Noumena, the Rick Margitza Quintet comes off as decidedly mainstream. The noted tenor man can play his butt off, no question — and so can his bandmates Franck Amsallem on piano, John Hart on guitar, Scott Colley on bass, and Ian Froman on drums. But there’s a formulaic, by-the-book quality to the group’s set: touches of funk on "Gypsies," latin on "14-Bar Blues," bright up-tempo swing on Chick Corea’s "You’re Everything," waltz time on "Heart of Hearts," and modal burning on "Father John." Colley and Froman pack quite a combined punch, and Hart is in especially good form, but it takes Margitza a little while to loosen up. But boy, does he loosen up: after the final tune he invites the audience to hang out for milk and cookies (no kidding).
There may not be milk and cookies at the next installment of the Jazz Composers Collective concert series, but the program is enticing nonetheless: the Ron Horton Big Band will play the music of Andrew Hill, and Ellery Eskelin will appear with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black. Mark your calendars for May 18.
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