John Hebert: Byzantine Monkey (2009)
Bassist John Hebert was a member of guitarist Mary Halvorson's trio that put out the memorable Dragon's Head on Firehouse 12 in 2008, while Michael Attias has recorded with guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil on Opium (2002) for CIMP, one of the most rewarding titles of the last ten years. This program thus has a lot to live up to.
If the instrumental line-up suggests free-bop in the mode of early Ornette Coleman then prepare to have that expectation dashed. Hebert clearly knows his way around the music well enough not to go over such established tropes. He's also a composer of no little distinction, which helps in small part. "Acrid Landscape" is an example of this, where the unpredictable contrast that stems from rhythmic volatility underpinning lyrical soloing makes for music that engages the ear and teases the intellect.
The quiet disregard this might imply for established formulas is apparent too on "Run For The Hills," the opening minutes of which highlight how it's possible to get substantial music out of a duo consisting of flute and soprano sax. Tony Malaby on the latter has a lot going for him, hinting as he does at Steve Lacy's dedication to the straight horn even while he doubles elsewhere here, and to radically different effect on tenor sax. When the duo is usurped by a percussion pairing of Nasheet Waits and Satoshi Takeishi, the languid mood is perhaps inevitably replaced by a strain of volatility even while the players know how to keep out of each others' way. Attias on alto sax favors the dry side, sounding like an amalgam of Anthony Braxton and Gary Foster, whilst Malaby's brand of the volcanic on tenor sax is entirely his own.
Misleading though a title like "Cajun Christmas" might be in view of the piece's essentially melancholy air, the music is again heavy with substance in one of those occasions when the composer's intentions and those of the musicians meet and meld as one. The slightly acidic edge on Attias's alto sax tone serves as notice of a talent worthy of watching, especially as it highlights his individuality as much as his rhythmic conception does.
"New Belly" closes the program out and is happily right in keeping with what precedes it. In solo the leader shows perhaps just a little of Gary Peacock's elasticity of time, even as he shares that master's know-how in team-playing. The piece again has a melancholy air, but in this instance the relatively shallow emotional involvement that could imply means also a depth of engagement that simply seems to elude a lot of contemporary jazz.
Track Listing: La Reine de la Salle; Acrid Landscape; Run For The Hills; Blind Pig; Ciao Monkey; Cajun Christmas; Fez; For A.H.; Fez II; New Belly.
Personnel: Michael Attias: alto sax, baritone sax; Tony Malaby: tenor sax, soprano sax; John Hebert: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums; Satoshi Takeishi: percussion; Adam Kolker: flute, alto flute, bass clarinet (2-4, 8)