Listening to Guinea Pig is a bit like watching a huge pot of water boil. Bubbles form and rise through the medium in unpredictable ways on Out of Town.
These pieces range from the taciturn simmer of "The Communique" to the sheer roiling energy of "Hitchcockville." Saxophonist Rent Romus plays a central role here in determining where the music heads, although nominally these tunes all receive joint credit to the quartet as a whole. The "out" voyages of the saxophones (Romus and Tony Passarell) serve as curious counterpoint to the often "in" playing of the rhythm section (cellist Doug Carroll and drummer Drew Gardner). Just as often as not, the drummer and cellist set up percolating grooves: from a cool, jaunty strut to heavy, sweaty funk. During quieter moments, they lapse into less conventional roles, offering subtle melody and color.
"Red Leather Lounge," the highlight of the record, assumes a loose funk groove right away, and the horns alternately blow in synchrony to enforce the backbeat or in wild counterpoint to oppose it. (The liner notes offer a curious tale of a red sofa with magical powers. You should definitely spend some time reading them: they're not the average everyday notes, that's for sure.) But whatever the source of the inspiration in performance, it's a wondrous tug- of-war that never ceases. Rent Romus actively refuses to be boxed in or classified. And in this setting (along with Passarell, to be sure), he's a high-intensity energy emitter steering Guinea Pig forward. The rhythm section on Out of Town might be a diesel truck, but these two reed players are wild and cantankerous behind the wheel. The fact that this disc was recorded live at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco only helps, because the propulsive effect of the audience is readily palpable.
Out of Town bears a lot of similarities to the two final NRG Ensemble records, where Ken Vandermark stepped in to replace the late Hal Russell. It consciously toys with boundaries, defining them and then post-haste ripping them to shreds. But when the machine builds up enough momentum, there's no stopping it. During moments of transition or acceleration, these players push and pull the music in every direction. Sometimes the pot barely simmers, and sometimes it boils over. But no one will ever fairly accuse Guinea Pig of being predictable. Very highly recommended.
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Personnel: Doug Carroll: electric cello; Drew Gardner: drums; Tony Passarell: baritone, tenor, and soprano saxophones, pocket trumpet; Rent Romus: alto and soprano saxophones, flute.