The Paul Hemmings Trio with John Tchicai: Letter From America (2008)
When guitarist Paul Hemmings says that he views jazz through a wide angle lens, he is not making an idle boast. He shows just how adventurous a composer he is on this recording, his third as leader. It goes past his two previous recordingsIn and Out (Leading Tone, 2003), which had a strong mainstream approach, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Live!) (Leading Tone, 2006), which was a reworking of The Beatles' album recorded in concert.
Hemmings adds John Tchicai (tenor saxophone) to his group that consists of Adam Issadore (drum kit and percussion) and Gaku Takanashi (electric and upright basses). Tchicai is known to extend the parameters of a tune to create unusual and complex patterns. He does it here too and finds complementary vision from the other three.
Tchicai comes off first blast on "Under a New Mexican Sky." He plays with authority, his tenor a strident messenger. His phrases are volatile thrusts, the shards grounded in an intense groove. Yet, he finds the right moment to slip in a soft burr or breathy phrase. Hemmings rips right in on the electric guitar, the impact of heavy metal tearing through. With Takanashi adding a softer shade to the palette, this becomes a well painted canvas.
Hemmings springs a delightful surprise on the wide encompassing "Venice Beach Boardwalk." He brings in loops and samples which, in a sense, are a red herring. Tchicai comes in and plays a klezmer melody. If that weren't enough, the rhythm section goes into a reggae backbeat for a calypso melody. In comes some free flowing jazz from Hemmings before he settles into mainstream harmony with Tchicai. It's all done with finesse and is a fine accomplishment.
"Ous Ous" has a sparkling rhythm and a Caribbean melody. In tandem, they are irresistible. Hemmings drenches the melody with some succulent notes while Tchicai explores the theme with a hardier approach. It all gels in with Issadore and Takanshi setting a pliant beat.
It makes no difference what music the composition plays, it is always worth turning an ear, or two, to.
Track Listing: Under a New Mexico Sky; Radio Free America; Venice Beach Boardwalk; The Battle of New York City; A Conversation in Central Park; Lady Dynamite; The Pollack Galaxy; Ous Ous; Code (R)ed; Under a New Mexico Sky (reprise).
Personnel: John Tchicai: tenor saxophone; Adam Issadore: drum kit and percussion; Gaku Takanashi: electric and upright basses; Paul Hemmings: electric guitar, effects, loops, samples.
Record Label: Leading Tone Records