This one straddles the divide between the straight-ahead domain and areas of greater freedom with such aplomb that listeners might be left wondering why such categories exist at all. In addition, there's a pervasive low-key quality to the music which serves in itself to further cement this group's distinct identity.
The cryptically entitled "Your Shirts" gives tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman a chance to shine and it's clear that there's something endearingly quirky about his way with a phrase which calls to mind Joe Henderson in his prime, albeit allusively. The division previously referred to is bridged more than effectively on this one, with intense yet low key activity being the order of the day.
The thirteen seconds of "Of" are but a preliminary to the more substantial "Ur'e The Guy (Keith Wood)" and this piece seems to take on a life of its own in terms of the random yet ordered way in which the music comes together, with Haldeman again proving to be such a compelling soloist that we can only rue the fact that he'll now never get the chance to record with Andrew Hill. By contrast trumpeter Jaime Branch takes a more measured approach and the disparity between their styles and approaches makes for nice creative tensions. Branch's lines are lean here by virtue of the fact that he's purged them of every excess.
"Sackett's Harbour" makes that clear, with the same qualities in similar abundance here on his thematic statement. Matt Schneider's guitar comes into its own on this one too, showing just what a deft accompanist he's in the process of becoming, especially beneath Jason Adasiewicz's marimba solo. As a duo it's more than evident that they have developed a close understanding of counterpoint and their efforts often lend the music a restless, exploratory feel.
The lengthy "Smokeless Heat-Live on WMSE, Milwaukee," taken by the core trio of Haldeman, Ajemian and Tanaka has those qualities in spades. There's a form of tentativeness in some of Haldeman's lines on this one but that's only because he's pulling off the feat of listening and playing simultaneously. He devotes a great deal of the former of these to Ajemian's contribution and it's here more than anywhere else that the leader comes into his own.
Track Listing: With Or Without The Universalator (Birdie's Dream); The; Your Shirts; Art; Miss O; 9 Car; Of; U're The Guy (Keith Wood); Dying; Stackett's Harbour; Ludicrous Dreams And Solar Guided Lovehandles; Machine Gun Operator; Manisia Lynn; 18.104.22.168; Smokeless Heat 'Live On WMSE, Milwaukee.
Personnel: Jaime Branch: trumpet; Tim Haldeman: tenor sax; Jason Adasiewicz: marimba; Matt Schneider: guitar; Jason Ajemian: bass; Noritaka Tanaka: drums.