Vinnie Sperrazza & Matt Blostein: Ursa Minor (2009)
The Vinnie Sperrazza/Matt Blostein Band sits boldly on the outer branches of the jazz tree. This group specializes in what might be described as art-house, a style defined by complex, cutting edge compositions and arrangements played at perfect pitch. Ursa Minor displays a balanced and impressive combination of color and substance.
These tunes, penned by alto saxophonist Blostein or drummer Sperrazza (and in the case of "Liftoff," both) are poetic in structure, unfolding slowly to reveal a wealth of layers and textures, each one giving the fine musicians on board space to weave their rich tapestries of sound. Pianist Jamie Reynolds' deep blue single-note highlights and Khabu Young's guitar amply support Bryan Drye's thoughtful, articulate trombone on "Color Red." The title cut, a piano-less quartet piece, is a slow burn that develops gradually around Blostein's appropriately moody alto and Young's edgy, persistent licks. Young and pianist Jacob Sacks' delightfully fractured duet on "Hey Jax" sounds like a playful riff on free jazz; Thomas Morgan's pizzicato on this tune is sotto voce almost to the point of being subliminal. The compelling "Juniper Tree" sounds like free jazz and straight-ahead arm wrestling for dominance, with tenor man Mike McGinnis and Sperrazza leading the charge.
Even when stripped down to its essentials, as on the Blostein/Morgan/Sperrazza trio tune "Liftoff," the sound is just as compelling. Jazz is clearly the irresistible force at the core of this band, but it's their deep sense of musical heritage and willingness to explore, challenge and transform genres, that gives this excellent group its singular voice and vibrancy.
Track Listing: Color Red; Ursa Minor; Kuleet Enpark; Hey Jax; Liftoff; Triangle; The Juniper Tree.
Personnel: Matt Blostein: alto sax; Mike McGinnis: tenor sax; Brian Drye: trombone; Khabu Young: guitar; Jamie Reynolds: piano; Geoff Kraly: electric bass; Thomas Morgan: bass; Vinnie Sperrazza: drums.