Rob Reddy's fourth disc as a leader marks a step forward in his ensemble vision. Reddy has always had a fascination with the different ways composition can fuel the development of musical ideas, and he pursues this focus from several different angles on Seeing By the Light of My Own Candle.
The strengths of this record lie in Reddy's remarkable ability to fragment his ideas into flexible pieces, and then to combine them with the improvisational fluency of each personality in his Sleeping Dogs group.
Reddy penned or co- penned all the tunes on Seeing. He builds these pieces around the idea of arranging different parts of the group and then allowing the rest to explore where those ideas might lead. Rather than imposing structure on a "rhythm section" or incorporating the whole group into every situation, he usually takes two or three instruments at a time and fixes their roles. The remainder are free to pursue themes and moods using a combination of folk-oriented, Ornette-ish, and free improv approaches. "Prayer III," for example, starts off with Charlie Burnham's delicate, spacious mandolin solo. Two minutes later, the theme enters as a gentle intertwining melody for sax, trumpet, and bass. As this trio elaborates the melody, Burnham decorates it with loose-knit mandolin lines and Guillermo E. Brown colors it with percolating percussion colors. On other tunes, the bass and drums have the most freedom, contradicting their usually rigid roles in groups this size.
Each player on Seeing has something special to offer, but the most dramatic contributions come from Burnham and Brown. The violin and mandolin may have traditionally occupied a conspicuously minor role in the jazz idiom, but Burnham really makes them sing here. His playing tends toward a melodic focus, drawing regularly from the folk traditions where these instruments have been more frequently employed. And Guillermo E. Brown combines a tremendously powerful sense of forward motion with a rare intuition of knowing when to hold back. More Brown, please!
Seeing bears special interest to listeners with an ear for Ornette Coleman's sense of swinging freedom; and the many layers of compositional structure here continue to bear intrigue on repeated listening. This disc is a masterpiece of the highest order.
Personnel: Rob Reddy: soprano and alto saxophones; Charlie Burnham: violin and mandolin; John Carlson: trumpet and pocket trumpet; Dom Richards: bass; Guillermo E. Brown: drums.