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Brian Woestehoff Quartet: Organic Chemistry (2005)

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Brian Woestehoff Quartet: Organic Chemistry How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Philadelphia saxophonist Brian Woestehoff and his quartet make their recording debut with Organic Chemistry. Woestehoff plays soprano and tenor sax, and he's accompanied by Erik Dutko on guitar, Brian Howell on bass, and Dan Monaghan on drums. It's post-bop jazz all the way on this collection of Woestehoff originals (supplemented by one Gary Peacock and one Monaghan composition); young musicians like these can only be seen as the future of jazz music.

Which makes it so disagreeable to report that this is rather a bad album. No one is done any favors by the rough sound of the recording; no studio is listed in the packaging and, really, it sounds as if it were recorded in someone's (anyone's) basement. The levels fluctuate unpleasantly—Howell's bass rising at times to an inappropriately jarring level, Woestehoff in quieter passages sounding as if he is simply walking away from the microphone—and Monaghan's kit sounds as if it is in another room entirely from the rest of the group. That shouldn't matter too much: if the performances were more worthy, the sound of the CD might have added a bracing rawness to the proceedings. Certainly, it's a refreshingly dry sound.

But the playing and writing aren't very good either. Woestehoff's compositions simply aren't very memorable, falling from the listener's consciousness moments after they end (but with eight songs in 56 minutes, they're all certainly long enough). They might sound better if the playing were tighter, though. Peacock's "Vignette doesn't impress terribly here, and I know that's a great song, but here it feels shambling with Howell's solo bass consuming time, rather than saying anything over Monaghan's ever-busy drumming. Monaghan's a positive liability on this session: his playing feels lurching and inattentive on "Four Wheel Drift, as if his busy playing is simply an attempt to keep up—sadly, this is the effect he produces throughout the album. Woestehoff plays some okay soprano on this number, but nothing swings; the group feels slack, unconnected.

As it does for the remainder of the album. Monaghan's "Threnody is a slow tenor feature for Woestehoff, and while it's perhaps the album's finest number—Monaghan, mercifully, simplifies his playing here—Woestehoff's intonation sounds unintentionally variable and his soloing doesn't engage. Dutko contributes a nice solo, though, but Howell's overmiked bass overwhelms and undermines it.

It's all rather puzzling because all of these players are experienced, trained musicians and regularly play together as a group. Monaghan in particular seems to gig with everyone, everywhere—yet this session sounds underrehearsed and there is no chemistry. But by all reports this group is a good one to see live. So all we have, really, is a band that had every right and reason to record a CD. They just made a bad one. And while Organic Chemistry would have been better left unreleased, it won't be the only recorded statement by these players. Let's hope they do better next time.

Visit Brian Woestehoff on the web.


Track Listing: 1. Four Wheel Drift 2. Organic Chemistry 3. Vignette 4. Threnody 5. Interlude 6. Simple 7. Bean Counter 8. Better Down

Personnel: Brian Woestehoff: soprano sax, tenor sax; Erik Dutko: guitar; Brian Howell: bass; Dan Monaghan: drums

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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