Will Sellenraad: Balance (2009)
The album's title track keeps an interesting balance of rhythmic feels, alternating between waltz time and 4/4 swing. It grooves like an old school session, but sizzles with a freshness that catches the band in their present moment. From the get-go, saxophonist Abraham Burton's down-home preaching and soulful declarations let you know he has something to say.
"Double Down" is a brisk swinger with a twitchy bebop head. The practice of trading eights can be an overdone cliché, but all the players show wit and ease as they trade lines with veteran drummer Victor Lewis' masterful breaks. Lewis is of a generation of select but perhaps underrated peers who have kept various jazz lineages intact throughout the '80s and '90s. The younger Sellenraad and his band mates benefit from the passing of a tradition that the drummer has inherited from playing with Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, and a long list of others.
Lewis' compositional skills are also on display with "It's Been a Long Time," which offers a stately sense of swing in support of a lyrical melody. Meanwhile, "Stubbs" is deceptively low-key, injected with the languid humidity of New Orleans-style funk, but covered in the slick polish of New York City.
Kiyoshi Kitagawa's "Tell Me Why" is a little sleepy, but pretty too. The bassist possesses a genuinely warm tone, especially on ballads like the guitarist's "Prayer," and a feel that meshes well with Lewis' placement of the beat.
The melodies of Sellenraad's "Blewis" and "Nye" sound a bit formulaic and nondescript at first listen, but they both develop into jams that showcase each of the player's strengths and cohesion as a band. These tracks would probably be best experienced live; on record at around nine minutes each, they tend to meander away like a conversation gone off the central topic.
The one-and-a-half-minute set closer "Left (shout chorus)" sounds like a great idea at first; but whether the tempo is taken too slow, or it just needs a little more grease, it ends the record on a whisper instead of a shout. Which is a shame, as this is a tight band that shows lots of promise.
Aside from that, the guitarist has good ideasnot to mention some of the best sidemen around. Plus, he gets props for teaming with Beezwax Records, whose attention to hand-crafted detail shows a welcome consideration of the album's visual aesthetic.
Track Listing: Balance; Double Down; Tell Me Why; Stubbs; Blewis; Nye; Prayer; It
Personnel: Will Sellenraad: guitar; Abraham Burton: tenor and soprano saxophone; Victor Lewis: drums; Kiyoshi Kitagawa: bass.
Record Label: Beezwax Records