MPH Trio: Curves (2004)
The liner notes to Curves maintain that this trio’s rendition of “Autumn Leaves” “uses a pontillistic octave displacement to present the melody, and the solo section diminishes the harmony to one beat per change.” When language like this comes straight from the musicians themselves, we’re in danger of abstract theory or cold mechanics crowding out all else. And so it is with much of this disc. Johnny Mercer’s jazz standard, rearranged here by bassist Peter Paulsen, is reduced to something as warm and engaging as a technical exercise. Paulsen’s solo has sense and feeling, but its vigor is undermined by Gunnar Mossblad’s insistent wandering on the sax—playing for the sake of playing. Meanwhile drummer Chris Hanning won’t sit still for even a moment. He’s everywhere, like buckshot fired repeatedly at a drum kit. Mossblad finally spins down to the point where he is repeating the same weary seven-note phrase, a permutation of the introductory bars.
“...Just for Us,” a Hanning chart, gives Mossblad and Paulsen something to play with: a leitmotif. Paulsen starts it off, but then Mossblad gets hold of it and won’t let go. It becomes a weak tug of war. Paulsen snatches it back after the sax solo (constructed entirely around said leitmotif); his victory is shortlived. The saxophonist stakes a new claim to it, though he reluctantly concedes to share until the track closes. But Hanning is the composer. Where is he? During this fight for a favorite toy, he’s been tapping away at the same beat with only occasional interjections. Dynamic, then, is not the word that first comes to mind when describing it.
The solo sax tune “Windscapes” evolved from a study to “practice overtone fingerings.” More than just another exercise in pure theory or technique, it is, paradoxically, one of the most poetic tracks on the album. “Stewartship,” a Bill Stewart homage of Hanning’s devising, features some musical, fast-paced drumwork a la Max Roach. Unfortunately, it never really leads anywhere. The impression is that of a dog chasing its tail. The title track—the tenth and final—is a smoky, smug, lounge-type tune, easing into its groove with a bass crawl and some hesitant notes by its composer, Mossblad. Hanning leisurely rides the cymbal and tosses in some high hats and snare to spice up this relatively blithe stroll.
The primary fault with Curves lies not in its heavy reliance on music theory or in the glut of idiosyncratic playing, but in the fact that it is quite dull. It fails to inspire or excite or awe or soothe. In the realm of commercial pop, this is simply a matter of course. In jazz, however, it amounts to a slight disappointment.
Track Listing: 1. Autumn Leaves 2. ...Just for Us 3. Windscapes 4. Stella by Starlight 5. Dark Time 6. Stewartship 7. Summer Play 8. What If
Personnel: Gunnar Mossblad: saxophone; Peter Paulsen: bass; Chris Hanning: drums
Style: Modern Jazz