Other than being a top flight and much in demand session musician, french hornist Tom Varner has rapidly established a reputation as being a formidable composer-leader resulting from a string of highly successful solo recordings. Here, on Swimming Varner helps inaugurate the promising newOmniTonelabel which has jumped out of the gate rather quickly with excellent new recordings by Frank Kimbrough/Joe Locke, Ron Horton (see Nov 99 AAJ reviews) and Joe Morris.
Matters get off to a rousing start with the title track, “Swimming” which features glistening choruses riding high over a hybrid African/Latin beat as Varner soars skywards while bending notes, utilizing all registers or more appropriately – shooting for the stars. An upfront, enterprising arrangement, guitarist Pete McCann comps well along with the mighty rhythm section consisting of drummer Tom Rainey and the mega-talented and sometimes under recognized bassist Cameron Brown. “Swimming” has gobs of impact along with several “enticing” twists and turns, not to mention some explosive soloing from tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson. Needless to state, Varner has recruited an impressive group who are among the hottest if not finest modern jazz musicians on the scene today. The title piece will likely get your adrenaline going! Throughout, Varner’s compositions contain some of the complexities found in classical composition yet the ensemble convey a loose vibe through richly melodic choruses, shifting meter, affable and thoroughly memorable arrangements. Again, Varner shines as a highly literate and articulate composer besides enjoying critically acclaimed status as a premier french hornist who can trade fours and cut with the best of them, and by that we mean saxophonists, trumpeters and alike. The ensemble swings hard on “Maybe Yes” through multifarious passages, strong linear development, punctual rhythms, rapid development and variable themes in conjunction with some juicy and at times explosive soloing from the horn saxophonists. On “Samuel Gets The Call”, guitarist Pete McCann and drummer Tom Rainey are having a conversation underneath brief sublime choruses from the horn section as Varner proceeds to tear it up as this piece borders quite-chaos and Ellingtonia.
”Seven Miniatures” are a series of vignettes written for the gifted violinist Mark Feldman who performs splendidly through various motifs that touch upon chamber and folk capped off by a few passages, which caress the fringes of avant-garde, or perhaps venturing into John Cage-type territory. It doesn’t end here as the ensemble whirl through several more pieces including the whimsical and bluesy “OmniTone Blues”.
All in all, a well-balanced compositional mix as this band covers quite a bit of territory throughout.......There’s a lot to get excited about on Swimming as Varner excels as a multifaceted composer who injects a good deal of emotion and color into his work which is enhanced by a supremely motivated ensemble who share Varner’s plight and compelling vision. After listening to this recording several times, it became apparent, that Varner has established a unique jazz vocabulary. Swimming should not go unnoticed! Highly recommended.... * * * * *
Tom Varner; French Horn: Steve Wilson; Alto Saxophone: Tony Malaby; Tenor Saxophone: Cameron Brown; Bass: Tom Rainey; Drums: