Adam Unsworth: Excerpt This! (2006)
As its title suggests, Excerpt This! is an open challenge to anyone who might not think of the French horn as the optimal instrument for a jazz soloist like Adam Unsworth. Or maybe it represents a collision of the jazz and classical worlds, and an admonition to would-be detractors who seek to pigeonhole this music. Unsworth's debut recording does what the best jazz should do by asking questions, shunning orthodoxy and predictabilityand having a few laughs along the way.
Unsworth, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra and an educator at Temple University, not only overcomes the unwieldy intonation of his chosen instrument, but also creates some spirited music with fine compositions and a group of diverse instrumentalists.
The leader wrote six of the ten compositions. The title track is full of cheekiness and audacity, beginning with a howling French horn statement of a twelve-bar blues in which all members of the sextet have a chance to blow. Besides Unsworth's exceptional playing, violinist Diane Monroe and bassist Ranaan Meyer make equally striking contributions. The unusual combinations of vibes, bass and drums (in the rhythm section) and French horn, violin and bass clarinet (on the front line) work to great effect. This is no ordinary up-tempo blues, and this assemblage of musicians is no ordinary group.
The other ensemble pieces are a treat. "Third Time's the Charm" features strong mallet work by Toni Miceli. "Waltz With a View," with its noticeably relaxed feel and strong melody, is a perfect setting for multi-reedist Les Thimmig's graceful command of the flute. Thimmig is a valuable asset to this music, also contributing bass clarinet and alto saxophone at different points and providing a variety of textures. The ballad "All I Need" showcases Unsworth's capability for rich and sensitive playing; "Use Guise" finds the ensemble happily swinging with inimitable invention and style.
The sextet pieces interweave with compositions written for solo French horn. Thimmig contributes "Bluefire Crown II," Unsworth "Halfway There," and Dana Wilson the "Graham's Crackers" suite, which consists of three movements: "Ballad," "Swing" and "Samba." All of the solo tracks highlight the leader's unusual command and conceptual approach to his instrument. Though the juxtaposition of the sextet and solo pieces can be a trifle bewildering, the originality and virtuosity throughout makes this release very worthwhile.
Adam Unsowrth has contributed something new with Excerpt This!. His wry wit and musical sophistication brings to mind artists like Jack Walrath and Don Grolnick. His virtuosity is undeniable, and while this disc may try the patience of listeners new to his work, repeated listenings drive home the notion that Unsworth and his group have created something rare and distinctive.
Track Listing: Excerpt This!; Third Time's The Charm; Halfway There; Waltz With A View; Graham's Crackers--Ballad, Swing, Samba; All I Need; Bluefire Crown II; Use Guise.
Personnel: Adam Unsworth: French horn; Diane Monrow: violin; Les Thimmig: bass clarinet, flute, alto flute; Tony Miceli: vibraphone; Ranaan Meyer: bass; Cornell Rochester: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced