The saxophone-piano-guitar trio of Jared Sims, Tyson Rogers and Eric Hofbauer first came together in '97, when the three met while studying at the New England Conservatory. From early on they discovered a similar penchant for lyricism coupled with a more adventurous, left-of-centre style that garnered some encouragement from Paul Bley and a performance at the '99 North Sea Jazz Festival. With two recordings under their belt, they decided, for their third record, to solicit the assistance of bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Matt Wilson, two players who are no strangers to the concept of combining melodicism with a more oblique approach. The result, The Blueprint Project , finds Sims, Rogers and Hofbauer liberated from having to create their own sense of forward motion, and more free to explore the quirky corners of their original compositions.
Of the three, Hofbauer is clearly the most abstruse writer. Odd that the guitarist of the group should come across as the one most directly influenced by Monk, but the idiosyncratic yet strangely appealing writing of "Bench Carvin'" and especially "The High Priest's Sermon" clearly have precedence in Monk's more sharp-edged approach. Rogers is the most straightforward of the three, with "Abdullah" demonstrating an almost spiritual side, and "Dead Mouse Blues" the most overtly swinging tune of the set. Sims' pieces sit somewhere in the middle, with his revisionist tango, "The Old Country," displaying shades of Carla Bley, but with a less wry edge.
As individual players, the three come across as slightly less-than-seasoned. Individual styles have yet to strongly emerge from them, although they do avoid some of the trappings of their contemporaries. Hofbauer, for example, plays with a clean, unaffected sound that is devoid of any of the excesses of most guitarists his age. Still, they all need a few more years under their belts before they can truly emerge as unique voices on their instruments. McBee and Wilson are, of course, recognizable for their tone and approach, and they are clearly able to provide a certain glue to the proceedings. And while Sims, Rogers and Hofbauer may require more growth, they clearly have an affinity for each other; their sense of interplay on Hofbauer's "Molecular Mischief" can only come from players who have spent significant time working together.
The Blueprint Project may ultimately succeed more for what it isn't than for what it is. It is not excessive, it is not self-conscious, and it is not contrived. But before Sims, Rogers and Hofbauer take a more prominent place on the world stage, they'll need to work at developing more personal modes of expression. A concept that avoids the trappings of many players their ages is a good start, but they need to go that step further with a concept that speaks directly and uniquely. Still, The Blueprint Project is an entertaining set that may ultimately be seen as the nascent work of three distinguished artists in years to come.
Personnel: Jared Sims (tenor and soprano saxophones), Eric Hofbauer (guitar), Tyson Rogers (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), Matt Wilson (drums)