Except for a few top acts, modern experimental jazz bands are usually short on either ability or innovation. The former may be more interesting in concept, but ultimately the latter makes for better albumsreflecting the cliche that there's no substitute for talent.
So while A.C. Unit's Lost Property doesn't feel like uncharted territory, it is an interesting trio showcase of mixed playing concepts. That's not to say it's boring or predictablecalling free jazz formulaic is just short of idioticmerely lacking something giving it a unique identity.
The resumes of the New York-area players are enough to assure that art rather than mere noise will occupy the six songs, including five originals. Classically trained guitarist Ben Lee's background includes scores for plays and banjo gigs in rock bands, percussionist Mike Pride has studied and played with the likes of Milford Graves and Anthony Braxton, and Iranian-born saxophonist Jonathan Monitz has studied and toured throughout Europe and the US.
Monitz is the most impressive player on a consistent basis, kicking out far-ranging, quick-note tenor lines someone as reaching as Braxton or disciplined as Joe Henderson might have delivered in their respective settings. They could be dropped into '60s free jazz recordings with ease; it's the somewhat more inconsistent textures from Lee and Pride that make this an obvious 21st Century outing.
When pieces click, their development is worth following. "Radie's World" opens with Lee's gentle electric backed by some rumbling sample riffs, joined by his bandmates shortly afterward in a straight-ahead buildup. It speeds up and continues to venture more and more beyond the center until it's in all-out bop/free mode halfway through, then to a complete frenzy before resolving itself into a four-beat fusion at the end. Despite all the changes, the eight-minute piece never feels out of control.
The Charles Mingus composition "Jump Monk" finds Monitz at one of his mellowest points, which Lee contrasts with acid-laced lines to establish a modern sense of harmonics. Pride is something of an intermediary, crossing between the two styles seemingly dependent on whatever mood seems right.
Some other pieces, while not jarring, are mixed. Pride's "42 Bars Dedicated To David A. Pride" opens with an impressive world beat quality on his kit, backed by Monitz dabbling in percussive notes, but builds to a point where Lee's relatively simple backing riffs get too dominant to appreciate the drummer's work. "Soaked" is a frenzied free-for-all which Lee paces with a march-style progression of notes, but the whole thing doesn't mesh and interact as well as some of the album's better works.
Lost Property is musically accomplished and there's a lingering desire to hear Monitz in particular playing a wider assortment of jazz-oriented genres. Developing a standout presence while maintaining the discipline of quality playing is a challenge for any group, but A.C. Unit has all the essentials to make it happen sooner rather than later.
Personnel: Ben Lee, guitar; Jonathan Monitz, tenor saxophone; Mike Pride, percussion