A dependable fixture in the Steeplechase stable, Steve LaSpina has contributed his anchoring bass sound to a variety of projects. Sadly his fourth recording as a leader comes in the tragic wake of the loss of his son. The aftermath of grief arising from such a tribulation registers with the unimaginable for those who have not experienced it. LaSpina draws on his music as a means of cathartic release and healing, crafting a collection of pieces that communicate his coming to terms with the reality and remembering his son. Despite its somber origins, the program also conveys a celebration of life and what might lie beyond.
Fronting a quintet comprised of regular colleagues, LaSpina situates his instrument in the foreground from the opening melancholy lilt of “Madness.” Throughout his tone is thick and oaken, lightly amplified in deep contrast to guitarist Vic Juris’ more ethereal and airborne fretwork. Jeff Hirshfield employs brushes to atmospheric effect, whisking up a pattering patina of colors as the horns provide lulling counterpoint to the strings. Soon the players switch places as Dave Ballou and Andrew Rathbun assume the melodic lead.
The mood turns more hopeful with the collective imagining of “A Better Place.” Working from a fluid communally stated theme the horns disperse on the propulsive thrust of a layered rhythm, starting with Rathbun’s warm tenor. Juris’ incandescent strings, laced with volume swells and shimmering tonal color, offer smears of harmonic commentary behind Ballou’s crisp brass lead. Sidling forward for his own solo, the guitarist peels off glowing, echo-tinged notes that skate the edges of sentimentality. His fretwork is firmly entrenched in a post-fusion framework that at times relies to heavily on cloying effects at the expense of forthright articulation. LaSpina rounds out the rear with another callus-building workout from his heavily traveled fingerboard.
Through the bright rolling bounce of the title track the quintet captures another celebratory groove. Juris contributes a delicately spun statement and Ballou follows with a breathy trail of notes, but it’s really LaSpina’s show as the bassist bends his bass into a melodic, almost singing, role not easily accomplished on the lower pitched instrument. Rathburn’s register sliding tenor stakes claim to the closing minutes and rolls out a solo that surfs the swaying syncopation of the tune’s underlying rhythm.
Contemplative melancholy returns on “How I Miss You” and the closing “When the Time Comes,” each reminders of the program’s sorrow-laden impetus. Both pieces are features for LaSpina, and in each instance he soaks his strings in a deep emotionalism that illustrates the strong lyrical potential hiding in their tautly strung surfaces. Albert Ayler once asserted that “Music is the healing force of the universe.” LaSpina and his friends tap convincingly into that curative sonic source and in the process find solace for father’s wounded heart.
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Track Listing: Madness/ A Better Place/ Forward Motion/ Remember When/ When There
Personnel: Steve LaSpina- bass; Dave Ballou- trumpet; Andrew Rathbun- tenor & soprano saxophones; Vic Juris- guitar; Jeff Hirshfield- drums. Recorded: November 2002.