Jim Saltzman: Hidden Intentions (2007)
The tunes are, for the most part, "harmony driven"modal constructions, numerous suspended and augmented chords, and unpredictable chord changes that would no doubt prove problematic for lesser improvisers. Although none of the ensuing melodies matches the opening title track, it's primarily the facility of Saltzman, as well as pianist Pat Firth, in navigating these potential harmonic obstacle courses that holds the listener's interest. Firth, in addition to contributing fluid lines that build on the leader's ideas, extracts a personal, sustained sound from the Rhodessimilar to the sonorities produced by phase shifters for background effect but, in this instance, configured to serve as an expressive solo voice as well as enhance the ensemble sound.
Although the musicians are sufficiently skilled to play challenging compositions freely, the music on this disc is a far cry from "free" jazz. In addition to chords the group plays "time"more symmetrical than polyrhythmical, more drive than swing, or a settled groove, but nonetheless an energetic and unrelenting pulse. Drummer Quinn Blandford inspires and sets up the soloists, then helps shape the development of individual solos while maintaining the momentum with a mix of rock-inflected back-beats, implied subdivisions of the primary pulse, and occasional straight-ahead 4/4 swing (though the clap of the hi-hat on the offbeats is hard to pick up).
Bassist Jay Foote completes a strong rhythm section, serving primarily as an unselfish player responsive to the quick change-ups in rhythm and harmony while offering the two principal soloists firm ground to stand on at any speed. He solos judiciously, favoring the upper-register in a manner that assures clearly defined pitches.
How much of an audience there is for music as venturesome as this remains to be seen. No doubt some listeners would have wished for the inclusion of several standards in the program. On the other hand, with a player as attentive to detail as Saltzman, what might initially seem like unfamiliar ground can suddenly appear more like home. Take the less-trodden path of the opening track ("Hidden Intentions"), stay the course through "Going Home," and withhold judgment until the finale"Once Faded, Now Focused." As Homer's Odysseus discovered, the greatest adventures are also homecomings.
Track Listing: Hidden Intentions; He Can't Open the Open Door; No Fault; In God's Country; Contemplative Response; Eclipse; Going Home (For Rob); Losing Sight; What May Come of This?; Once faded, Now Focused.
Personnel: Jim Saltzman: tenor and soprano saxophones, bansuri, Native American flutes; Pat Firth: piano, Fender Rhodes; Jay Foote: bass; Quinn Blandford: drums.
Record Label: Jazz Excursion Records
Style: Modern Jazz