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Sometimes the best music can be found brewing beneath the surfaceon the underground, as they say. Sacramento, California's Race!!! is a case in a point. The quintet, led by guitarist Ross Hammond, mixes Bitches Brew-style Miles with a touch of hard bop groove and an affinity for the avant-garde. Race's Prescott debut, Travels, was released late in 2004, but chances are it's still flying below radar, making this belated review more than necessary.
So file this one in your better late then never folder.
In addition to leading Race, Hammond has shared the stage with a litany of avant-gardists, including Pharaoh Sanders, John Tchicai, Ken Vandermark, and Peter Brötzmann, and released two records with his Trio (which includes Race drummer Tom Monson). The young guitarist's work on Travels is stellaran odd combination of old-school blues licks and new thing lightning. Rounding out Race are Monson on drums; Tony Passarell on saxophones, flute, and trumpet; Scott Anderson on tenor sax; and Erik Kleven on bass.
Travels is entirely unrehearsed, with one song feeding into the next, resulting in eleven cuts of continuous, dynamic music. It's clear the members of the quintet are quite comfortable with one anotherideas seem to be communicated effortlessly, and changes and chances are taken at will, all making Travels a telling testament to the extensive hours of interplay this band has logged on the road.
"Salinas opens the album, beginning abstractly before settling down in that signature Miles Davis groove. Kleven maintains a steady pulse while Anderson spits a blistering solo and Hammond comps courageously behind him. "Decaf is much more subtle, still driven by Kleven's pulsating bass, but this time at a much slower pace.
"Tales of the Seven Pharoahs is oddly beautiful and entirely unexpected. The chords that start the song seem more fitting for a Deftones record (hard rockers who, perhaps not coincidentally, also call Sacto home). Passarell's flute quickly reminds listeners that this is something else. "Tales is Race in a nutshellsort of a groove-infused free thing, part of the vibe that litters the record.
Listening to Hammond lay out Wes Montgomery-like chords over a spacey, atmospheric backdrop is a treat, and much of Travels takes this approach. The grooves are soft and subtle, and the abstraction tasteful. His is a voice of the future, no doubt.
Track Listing: 1. Salinas; 2. Decaf; 3. Tales of the Seven Pharoahs; 4. Left at the Phone Booth; 5. Capone's Stealth Approach; 6. Disagreements in Analog; 7. Verses By Phone; 8. Living on Sloat; 9. Alecia; 10. Improvisation for Mr. Low; 11. Sapphire (Formerly Shapiro)
Personnel: Ross Hammond (guitar); Tony Passarell (alto saxophone, trumpet); Erik Kleven (bass); Scott Anderson (tenor saxophone); Tom Monson (drums)