Unclassifiable is perhaps the most appropriate term to describe the debut album Vision
, by guitarist and Berklee alumnus Moss Freed and his sextet, Moss Project. Formed in late 2007, this grouphailing from Manchester, Englandhas been gigging widely around the world; and it shows. For a first album, this is a more than competent start. The compositions all show imagination, originality and vitality. Comparisons with more established groups, particularly the later Pat Metheny bands or even a toned-down Mahavishnu Orchestra, are tempting but ultimately futile when acknowledging that Moss Project actually doesn't sound quite like anything else.
One particularly attractive feature of this album is that the two lead string instruments are employed with a minimum of electronic effects, and in the case of the violin, no perceivable studio enhancements. So there is an immediate sense of purity of tone. Another admirable aspect is that there is no excessive soloing; merely restrained, contextually apt improvised statements which make redundant the oft quoted "try taking the saxophone out of your mouth" advice that Miles Davis
reportedly gave John Coltrane
"Pneuma" sets the tone for the whole album. There is a delicately executed balance of instrumentation with violin, guitar, saxophone and piano sharing melodic duties, and bass and drums providing a solid backdrop. On this first track, Freed amply demonstrates his soloing abilities, but nowhere does he or the other soloists overwhelm the proceedings. "Rite" is punchier than the opener, but again, as with everything here, there is sensitivity. Ed Barnwell's delicate Rhodes solo is an object lesson in non-clichéd and articulate invention.
The lengthier "Free Change" nods in the direction of guitarist John McLaughlin's The Heart of Things (Verve, 1997) but only vaguely, since the music remains distinctively original throughout. The appropriately titled "Epic" is a ten-minute pastoral discourse between violin, soprano sax, acoustic piano, acoustic bass and guitar, with urgent drums overlaid but not dominating. The punningly titled "Obstinato" opens with half a minute of chanting dissolving rapidly into an engaging melody played by violin and guitar, and joined by soprano sax. Here, as with every track, themes are subtly explored and repeated with solos intertwining, neither seeming to take precedence.
The final contemplative track, "Prelude, Fugue and Improvisation," which, at nearly 15 minutes, is also the lengthiest, epitomizes the strength of this band. That strength can be summarized simply as tastefully restrained, yet exciting. There is space here, something which many other musicians seem to ignore, to their cost. The track gradually builds the tension, and culminates with a triumphant ensemble crescendo of release.
Vision is a fascinating and hypnotically satisfying album which demands repeated plays.
Personnel: Moss Freed: guitar; Kenji Fenton: saxophones; Gavin Barras: bass; Ed Barnwell: piano, Rhodes electric piano; Joe Jones: violin; Myke Wilson: drums; Rob Turner: drums, percussion.