I've always tried to remain open to the avant-garde, except when the musicians' freedom comes at the expense of the listener's, forcibly invading the precious personal space required for an aesthetic response. On three occasions when I caught Coltrane following the departure of Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner, I reached such a point but stayed out of devotion, even as I witnessed the house empty. With certain free players, however, I've simply had to leavenot so much because they were invading my space but forcing me to intrude on their private business.
The point is that trumpeter Brian Groder's Torque, despite the title, is no arm-twister, but a varied, frequently absorbing program of fourteen musical vignettes that course through just about every melodic possibility, tonal inflection, dynamic level, rhythmic path, and instrumental texture available to four unique yet synchronistic playerswithout chordal instrumentsin exchange for a return to the fundamental principles of melody and rhythm. In that respect, the music on Torque is as much reactionary as it is "progressive." (T. S. Eliot probably got it right when he insisted that the notion of "progress" is alien to the arts, which return us to the very life-springs that, thanks to our consumptive demands on nature, have all but run dry.)
Once the listener has adjusted to the "tonality problem," this is music of ceaselessly fascinating possibilities, much of its success dependent on the quick decisions required of drummer Anthony Cole. The opening two pieces introduce the sounds of Groder's muted trumpet and Sam Rivers' tenor sax respectively, with the latter's full, bracing sound not quite met on its own terms by the leader's penetrating but somewhat thin-sounding open horn. Doug Matthews lays down solid walking bass support for the leader's solos, followed by a serene Rivers' excursion that takes us back to Matthews' bass for an unaccompanied solo invention.
Rivers' flute and Groder's trumpet, muted once again, comprise a companionable if impolite conversation (the price of polyphony) on the leader's "Behind the Shadows." With "Iota," Groder introduces flugelhorn and a rich, convivial sound, receiving deep-rooted nourishment from Matthews' bass. "Cross-Eyed" breaks the spell of intimate duets, capturing all four musicians in unfocused sound and fury.
"Involution," the longest of the compositions at just over six minutes, offers inviting Rivers flowing into Groder's solo, which yields to a brief, low-key dialog between bass and drums. On "Camouflage," it is again on flugelhorn that Groder proves a compelling complement to Rivers' tenor sax, before returning to muted trumpet for a sharply syncopated "Jingo" and some infectious boppish playing.
On "Tragic Magic" Groder exchanges his harmon for a cup mute while Rivers goes to soprano sax. With the outcome hanging in the balance, "Fulcrum" is a critical moment that features an animated argument between the two principals. It's a split decision until the finale, "Water Prayer," which opens with a vocal chant and continues with Groder's lush flugelhorn, culminating in a reconciliation as well as restoration of the wellsprings that are as vital to music as to lifeassuming the creative artist acknowledges there's a difference.
Personnel: Brian Groder: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sam Rivers: flute, saxophones; Doug Mathews: bass;
Anthony Cole: drums.