Former Either/Orchestra saxophonist Jeremy Udden's sophomore album, Plainville is dedicated to his rural Massachusetts hometown of the same name. Drawing on some of his earliest musical inspirations, this varied session integrates alt-country, folk, and rock influences into a jazz context. Continuing a conceptual thread begun on his debut, Torchsongs (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2006) this record draws on the past without wallowing in nostalgia, resulting in a diverse yet coherent sonic experience.
On Plainville, Udden enjoys the company of sympathetic peers. Employing a rustic instrumental palette more typical of a Tom Waits session than a modern jazz date, keyboardist Pete Rende's distorted Fender Rhodes, wheezing pump organ, and crackling Prophet synth find gritty accord in Brandon Seabrook's spiky banjo and fuzzed out electric guitar. Bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer RJ Miller ply straightforward roots-based rhythms embellished with crafty accents and fluid interjections.
Udden's compositions are well-crafted hybrids of theme and variations based structures and narrative devices, developing dynamic emotional arcs through careful pacing, tight arrangements, and concise solos. An exceptionally gifted tunesmith, Udden reveals a knack for writing memorable melodies; "Christmas Song" is an elegant waltz that exudes the timeless familiarity of a previously unheard holiday chestnut, while "695" features the gossamer tones of the leader's sinuous soprano and Rene's scintillating Fender Rhodes percolating over a snappy samba rhythma joyous pop confection.
Embracing a wealth of genres and styles, the quintet veers from the honeyed effervescence of the folksy title track and the mercurial waltz of "Red Coat Lane" to the punkish frenzy of "Big Lick," without falling victim to Post-Modern dilettantism. The sublime tone poems "The Reunion" and "Empty Lots" unveil Udden's silver-toned lyricism and penchant for drama, featuring languid introspection ascending into soaring anthems.
A diverse stylist with a gorgeous tone and supple phrasing, Udden is well served by his supporting players, especially Seabrook and Rende, who are responsible for some of the album's most compelling excursions. Seabrook's reverb-drenched, overdriven guitar dominates the twangy surf-inflected "Curbs" and "Big Lick," while "Modest" finds his kaleidoscopic banjo and Rene's shimmering Fender Rhodes knitting gauzy impressionism to drowsy psychedelia on an unorthodox, yet lovely ballad.
A former Lee Konitz devotee, Udden has expanded his scope, eschewing conventional jazz harmonies and chord changes in favor of the tuneful Americana espoused by indie rock icons like The Pixies, The Shins, and Wilco. Much like the 1970s crossover work of Gary Burton, Larry Coryell, and Keith Jarrett, Udden integrates the vibrant colors and textures of contemporary roots music into jazz structures, expanding the tradition in the process.
A heartfelt ode to simple pleasures, Plainville sketches new vistas for jazz improvisation from the understated idiosyncrasies of small town life.
Personnel: Jeremy Udden: alto and soprano saxophones, cymbals (5); Pete Rende: pump organ, Fender Rhodes, pedal steel guitar, Prophet; Brandon Seabrook: banjo, electric guitar, steel string acoustic guitar; Eivind Opsvik: bass; RJ Miller: drums; Nathan Blehar: nylon-string acoustic guitar (1, 4); Mike Baggetta: electric guitar (9); Justin Keller: tenor saxophone (2).