Urban Survival: Storyhill (2004)

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Urban Survival: Storyhill
Less than daring, Urban Survival's sophomore release, Story Hill, covers familiar territory, but unlike many contemporary releases, at least it does it dexterously.

More a survey of the contemporary jazz scene than anything else—at least the more popular contours of it—the album presents a series of tunes ranging from the Latin-tinged to basic bop, to classic bluesy swing and everything in between. Highlights of the album include a savvy cover of "Eleanor Rigby," which takes full advantage of the group's arranging skills, musical craftsmanship, and fluid interplay; the extended "Tabula Rasa"; and the ballad "Soliloquy," on which both pianist Olsen and consummate bassist Donica shine.

Less appealing are the long-winded "Fire in the Belly," the technically astute "Great Day," and "Maelstrom." This last piece opens with an intriguingly experimental, disjointed, and expressionistic group improvisation which, though out of context from the rest of the album's efforts, feels for the first few moments like a genuine effort to break the band's self-imposed mould. Unfortunately, instead of continuing down this path, the tune resolves itself into a straight-ahead blowing vehicle of generic shape and development. From a critical perspective, it is fascinating that the band's major overall hurdle is condensed within these several bars. At the risky crossroads between experiment and safely executable crowd pleasers, this self-proclaimed "all-male baby boomer jazz quartet" abandons the road less traveled for the path most often taken.

At the conclusion of this admittedly excellently performed endeavor, one is left with the distinct feeling that the members of Urban Survival enjoy their comfort zone, but that if they made the collective effort to eject themselves from it, real sparks would fly. And that is the disappointment of the album.

Track Listing: Fire in the Belly; Tabula Rasa; Eleanor Rigby; Weather or Not; Horizontal Grey; Maelstrom; I'm Old Fashionoed; Soliloquy; Great Day

Personnel: Jim Donica (bass), Eric Olsen(piano), Chris Bowman (drums), John Isley (saxophones)

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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