Also Not Pictured...: Equilateral (2003)
Equilateral is a group of four musicians (though not a quartet per se), three of whom once played together in the group Full Contact. They eschew a chording instrument in order to give "freedom to their improvisations while allowing them to utilize forms, textures, and harmonies to their advantage," according to their self-stated modus operandi. That means no guitar, no piano, and a significant break with the traditional conception of a jazz ensemble.
Recorded more than two years ago, Also Not Pictured... is indeed proof that a chording instrument is not essential to making inventive, listenable music within the genre. The original charts and improv sessions on the album grant the individual musicians more elbow room, without seeming sparse or undernourished. It also enables the performers to experiment with Schwitters-like voice and cello combinations such as "In My Cage," or to indulge in the rapid expansion and contraction of "East Meets West in a No-Holds-Barred Tag-Team Grudge Match to the Death," if you'll forgive the longwinded, ostentatious title. Thus we arrive at the energetic "Mastroiology," the echoes of Mancini on "Slinky," or the lively chops of "The Other Coleman" (Hawkins, I assume). All these are definitely worth a listen.
What we also end up with, however, especially in regards to the spontaneously composed tracks, is a lot of variations on a single theme. As in the case of "Eyebrows," "Drone," "Rollerskate," "Spackleshot" and so on, these pieces are usually brief affairs involving a nervous sax or some percussive noodling. Are they meant to show Equilateral's playful side? Or are they the equivalent of musical padding? To cut at least half of these from Also Not Pictured... would still leave about fourteen tracks (no mean feat in itself) without any identifiable loss to the listener. Chances are that the disc would actually benefit from this sort of streamlining, as these asides only serve to steal attention away from what Equilateral are trying to accomplish with this particular instrumental combination.
There is some tight, intelligent playing on Also Not Pictured... and it ought to encourage other musicians to explore different permutations of the jazz ensemble. It should also spark some further interest in Equilateral. I'm sure that more than a few people will be curious to see where they aim to go from here.
Track Listing: 1. Two Snaps up in a Circle (2:17) 2. Liebtones (7:04) 3. East Meets West in a No-Holds-Barred Tag-Team Grudge Match to the Death (3:24) 4. Mantis (:39) 5. Mastroiology (5:07) 6. Drone (:49) 7. Slinky (9:20) 8. Eyebrows (:25) 9. In My Cage (1:20) 10. Spackleshot (:31) 11. Son Spots (4:49) 12. Three Duos (2:00) 13. Sui-Zen (12:18) 14. Rollerskate (:55) 15. Searching in the Attic/ A Ballad Featuring Our Lead Alto Player (1:47) 16. Isn't Everyone? (5:06) 17. Yeast Eats Midwest (3:55) 18. The Other Coleman (6:43)
Personnel: Chris Merz
Record Label: x-Tet
Style: Modern Jazz