The Southern Excursion Quartet, featuring saxophonist Don Aliquo, drummer Tom Giampietro, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Jonathan Wires, moved from different parts of the United States to find their home in the Tennessee and Mississippi areas. The geographical relocation was conducive to a meeting of the four, who went on to find common musical ground.
The music is a revelation of how the quartet develops a theme. They read each other perfectly, sensing structure and enhancing development. The program, comprised of contributions from all four, moves from mainstream tunes to free concepts. Any which way, the deliberations are fertile and inventive, and bring in a fine level of satisfaction.
"Ashes" sets the toneif not the entire moodof Trading Post. The quartet balances the Andrew Hill
with the written and the free. Stevens has long been a votary of finding an unusual pulse and working it to advantage. His playing counterpoints the sweetness of Aliquo's soprano saxophone as it delves in and brings out the nuances. Crisp, tangential accents from Giampietro add to the draw.
Aliquo is an expressive player who can nestle in the embrace of a ballad and punctuate a free jazz tune with energetic and insightful phrasing. "Longing" is the perfect vehicle, a modulated approach that is heart warming even as he stretches his lines and gently bends them. Stevens is liquid tonality infusing rich variety by inferring space and carving emphatic notes, wrapping it all up with a lithesome flow.
"Chant 1" and "Chant 2" are the offspring of the original "Chant," which Aliquo split because of the length, as well as to reflect the two distinct moods. "Chant 1" gives the band members an extended path, as Stevens and Aliquo engage in a free range of ideas, with the saxophonist blowing a sheaf of hot notes that entwine around the piano before Stevens takes over and expands the boundaries. Giampietro and Wires are partners in evolving the framework, through a constant tide of shifting dynamics. "Chant 2" waltzes on the saxophone, Aliquo adding enough asides to change the tapestry, if not the texture.
Stevens gives the blues a shot of adrenalin on "Spiritual," leaning into the tune for a blithesome joyride. His power of transforming a song into an individualistic statement is manifested in no uncertain terms. Aliquo once again is the foil, letting the sound come to a boil slowly, with Wires adding his own harmonic presence on his well-placed solo.
Personnel: Don Aliquo: saxophone; Tom Giampietro: drums; Michael Jefry Stevens: piano; Jonathan Wires: bass.