Big Train: Travels (2009)
Big Train, a quartet composed of pianist Jeremy Bacon, drummer Jeff Ballard, saxophonist Justin Flynn and bassist Ugonna Okegwo, showcase nine original compositions on Travels, with songwriting duties split between Bacon and Flynn.
This third recording shows Big Train to be full of flexibility, tackling complex rhythms while still swinging strongly throughout.
Flynn gets a lot of work on the release, stating most of the heads and generally getting the first solos. He's got the chops for the assignment, playing with a full tone and building solos that work nicely with the rhythm section's comping.
Flynn's "Time's Flow" lurches with a stop-and-start head, played over Ballard's jumping drumming, before heading into choruses defined by the drummer's more irregular work.
Throughout the disc, Flynn demonstrates the use of a little dissonance to keep the attention, but on the saxophonist's "Redbud," heard here on soprano, he stays closer to the harmony, keeping the tune sweet. He lays out extended runs and arpeggios above Bacon's chordal comping.
"Redbud" is followed by Bacon's "Bamboo," a bouncy piece that lets Flynn flex his soloing muscles more, alternating running scales and short themes that employ outside notes. In contrast, Bacon's approach is more open, smooth and lighthearted.
Surprisingly, Okegwo only takes one short solo break, on "Time's Flow." He plays throughout the release with a light touch, adding refreshing pauses and jumps in his walking lines. His solo doesn't have time to build too much, but is well-crafted.
Travels gives the sense of a band of solid, journeyman musicians, a group that has traveled and forged a tight bond reflected in its music. A careful listen will find multiple layers in many of the tunes, where conversations occur just behind the melody or soloist.
Track Listing: Koan; The Philosopher's Stone;The Owl; Low Speak (Speak Low); Time's Flow; From Mountain To Valley And Back Again; Redbud; Bamboo; The Crane
Personnel: Justin Flynn: tenor, sorpano saxophones; Jeremy Bacon: piano; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums