It's a pity Pax Wallace will soon be leaving Seattle to take up residence in Europe. Luckily, the thirty-nine year old pianist/composer leaves us with some wonderful music representing much of his best work over the seventeen years that he has made Seattle his home.
Recorded in the autumn of last year, "Language Arts" offers ten tracks that cover the entire spectrum of Wallace's musical palette. Featuring top-notch musical contributors like Boston's Bob Moses and NYC's Charles Pillow---along with our own Chuck Bergeron and Jim Knapp---this CD combines some great individual playing with a group effort anchored in beautiful, intelligent composition. That's Wallace's forte, and the result is some heady, heartfelt, spiritual music.
From the get go, listeners receive the visceral satisfaction of experiencing Charles Pillow's tenor. On the first cut, "Crazy Horse," the "tundra wolf"---as Wallace dubs Pillow in the liner notes---brings us to the precipice and back. His full tone and expert use of the altissimo register is a saxophone lover's dream. Surely, one feels comfortable with this Pillow; his horn settles right into a groove without falling through the highly complex harmonic cracks. The final cut, a live at Tula's version of "Crazy Horse," makes a wonderful study of Pillow's far-reaching abilities.
Jim Knapp brings all of his Kenny Wheeler-like sensitivity to this sessionhis lovely melodicism paints a lyrical mood, especially on the ballad "On Going Home"; a tune he arranged and chose to feature with his big band. As a soloist, Knapp's trumpet sounds so round and rich, one swears he's playing Flugelhorn. Bergeron is here too, taking care of business with his rock-steady fiddle. Young bassists take note. Bob Moses is probably the best known musician on this recording and he brings a liberating spirit to Wallace's music. Mosian whoops and hollers populate the recording, encouraging, enticing, and celebrating the freedom that he feels while drumming.
There is truly something for everyone on this initial offering from Pax Wallace: "Equatorial Seattle" is a infectious jazz samba; "Elephant Migration" sports trundling polyrhythms; "Song for Spot" is an inside-outside tune replete with spoken word meditations on the reincarnations of an old Volkswagen. But, undoubtedly, the highlights of this CD are its ballads, "On Going Home," "Carolyn," and "Coastal Spirits."
In analytical terms, simply constructed melodies and complex harmonic progressions combine to form the launching pad for Wallace's ballads. Wallace reaps the rewards of space: a single note may be sustained over three of four chords. Harmony is obliquely linked and never fully resolved, complementing the sense of melodic space. The heart, however, speaks a different language. One feels the music's rich impressions. There is a sense of expansion and introspection, as if contemplating simultaneously a myriad of forgotten places, faces and sounds. Like a dream, one's never quite sure where it will lead.
Let me suggest your nearest jazz record store.
This review was previously published in Earshot Jazz magazine.