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Guitarist Mike Baggetta might not be a familiar name to those outside the coasts, though he's recorded and worked on both. He received his formal education in music from Rutgers and name checks players like Ted Dunbar and Jim Hall, yet his first release was decidedly un-bebopa half-hour solo recording of prepared and abused acoustic guitar entitled Canto. Bows, rattles and knocks then traversed their way through the long-running (if sporadic) duo Tin/Bag with California-based trumpeter Kris Tiner (of the Empty Cage Quartet). Now, on Small Spaces, Baggetta has applied these experiences to an expanded and thorny post-bop quartet. He's joined by Fresh Sound regulars, bassist Eivind Opsvik, tenor man Jason Rigby and drummer RJ Miller (since replaced by George Schuller) on seven originals and an arrangement of the Taiwanese folksong "Olive Tree".
Opener "The Heights" is a subtle manifesto for the leader's approach to group music. After an eddying free duet between Opsvik and Miller, with the bassist pushing the tempo slightly, tenor and guitar enter in a series of phrases that float around, ahead of and behind the beat, in a jumpy unison that recalls Warne Marsh and Billy Bauer on a wobbly deck. The Dunbar training seems readily apparent; Baggetta comps with dissonant chordal accents, placed at odd intervals and spiking the quartet's punch. Yet he expands on that as a "pure-sound player," his holdover from preparations and detuning a tendency to sit and chew a tart chord, isolating and letting it hang in the air. Even on a taut groover like "No Gravity," cutting edges poke through the theme's fabric, piercing highs that tug at comfort zones. Baggetta's single-note lines are evenly paced, but the ear recalls the head's lemony flavor and his solo retains a strong, wiry nature. By comparison, Rigby's hard edge is positively rounded and the two make an excellent frontline. Indeed, Baggetta's work with hornmen plays out in an affinity for breath if only to coil around it over supple rhythmic support. Rare is the young musician who fuses avant-garde and post-bop mettles so effortlesslySmall Spaces is a refreshingly unsafe approach to modern jazz.