The moniker of the Fresh Sound New Talent label couldn't be better chosen. With an unerring instinct for identifying emergent talent with greater potential, the label has provided the first forum for now-established artists like pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, and piano trio The Bad Plus. While it may be too soon to be definitively certain, all indications are that trumpeter Peter Kenagy, with his début release Little Machines
, possesses all the raw materials for greater success: fine playing, strong compositional skills and, most importantly, a concept
that lends his recording a larger narrative arc, rather than being merely a collection of discrete, well-written pieces.
Kenagy's approach has some clear precedents, not least in the more accessible music of Dave Douglas. Not that Kenagy's writing lacks depth, but there are no sharp edges or jarring dissonances, even while the harmonies feel both modern and rooted in traditions like Miles mid-'60s work. "Dog Story,"? with its medium tempo swagger, possesses the same kind of freedom-with-form of some of Miles' second quintet's best work. The piece breaks down into a free exchange between Kenagy, bassist Rick McLaughlin, and drummer Jorge Perez-Albela, much in the same way that Miles would deconstruct his quintet into smaller units. "AYG"? may have changes that recall a moody '50s blues ballad, but the Bolero-like rhythm lends it a more unusual complexion.
But while Kenagy's music has identifiable roots, texturally it has a sound all its own, largely due to the atmospheric accompaniment of guitarist Adam Larrabee. Larrabee uses a volume pedal, chorus, occasional delay, and a spare style to create a more airy and spacious backdrop that is less about rhythm and more about colour, combining the ethereal nature of Bill Frisell's work with the more direct harmonic approach of John Scofield. But Larrabee's touch is lighter, at times seeming to almost breathe on the strings rather than pluck them. Combined with Kenagy's generally soft disposition, the result is a tendency that, even when things get a little diffuse, remains gentle and appealing. Even when things become considerably freer, as they do on the title track and, in particular during tenor saxophonist Jason Hunter's searching solo, there's a feeling of grace and delicacy that keeps things light and minimal without detracting from the substance of the material.
Kenagy the soloist, along with Larrabee, Hunter, and alto saxophonist Jeremy Udden, clearly believe in substance over style. While never in question, technique is secondary to developing solos that take small motifs and develop them into longer-form explorations. Larrabee's extended solo on the light-yet-up-tempo walk of "Whisps,"? for example, etches out specific melodic devices on which he proceeds to further elaborate. Kenagy's solo is Miles-like in its lack of vibrato and generous use of space and long tones, peppered with cleanly-executed linking phrases.
An auspicious début that is somehow bold in a restrained fashion, Little Machines signifies the arrival of a strong new voice with an ensemble clearly matched to his elegant yet adventurous approach.
Visit Peter Kenagy on the web.
Track Listing: Nile; Dog Story; AYG; Little Machines; Hungary; Disappearing Man; Whisps
Personnel: Peter Kenagy (trumpet), Jason Hunter (tenor saxophone), Jeremy Udden (alto saxophone), Adam Larrabee (guitar), Rick McLaughlin (bass), Jorge Perez-Albela (drums)