Keith Pray: Confluence (2012)
When not leading the 17-piece Big Soul Ensemble, the Soul Jazz Revival group or the New Orleans-style Mohawk Brass Band, bandleader, educator and alto saxophonist Keith Pray fronts a hard-swinging quartet performing at venues in Albany and throughout the Capital District of upstate New York. Confluence is his fifth recording as leader, a project he designed for his working quartet but modified with the addition of guitarist Chuck D'Aloia, an idea that remained percolating after seeing a 1994 gig of the Joe Henderson trio with John Scofield as the fourth player. The result, of course, is the perfect gathering necessary for the Confluence of a well-designed and appealing musical endeavor.
Leading with his favorite track of the recording, Pray opens up the music in hard-driving fashion with "The Calling," a stretched-out minor blues featuring dynamic solos from Pray, D'Aloia, pianist Peter Tomlinson and drummer Jeff "Siege" Siegle. The rhythm section comes to life on the harmonious "Triangle, Circle, Square," another wonderful original featuring brisk interchange between the pianist and the leadera light tune that also serves as the inspiration for the album's simple cover art. D'Aloia contributes a piece of his own with the dark "Alley Cat," its haunting melody over a rather free-style tune something of a departure from the recording's overall theme.
Pray delivers a unique rendition of Jimmy Heath's "Gingerbread Boy," his fresh arrangement changing the pace and tempo of the original tune; inspired by trumpeter Ray Vega's take on saxophonist John Coltrane's "Africa," Pray inserts some gyrating funky rhythms here. "Song for Katie," an homage to Pray's wife, graces the recording as the set's love ballad, highlighted by tender moments from the saxophonist, accompanied Tomlinson's beautiful chords. There are more superb saxophone solos to be had on the album's dicey title track, as the band gets back to the disc's familiar post-bop theme.
The album concludes as it began, featuring another exciting piece of music with the melody-rich and gorgeous "Winter Brings." Bassist Lou Pappas takes his piece of the instrumental solo pie, dishing out light intricate bass lines before Pray and the others weigh in. Blending creative and innovative original compositions with the power-playing performance of Pray and his band, Confluence seems the perfect vehicle for bringing these artistic expressions to light in an album that leaves little to chance and a lot to enjoy.
Track Listing: The Calling; Triangle, Circle, Square; Alley Cat; Gingerbread Boy; Vamp for Peace; Two Years of the Lotus Blossom; Africa; Song for Katie; Confluence; Winter Brings.
Personnel: Keith Pray: alto saxophone; Chuck D'Aloia: guitar; Peter Tomlinson: piano; Lou Pappas: bass; Jeff "Siege" Siegle: drums.
Record Label: ARC - Artists Recording Collective