The third Accurate release co-led by guitarist Steve Grismore and reedist Paul Scea is tight, tough, exuberant and funky. Their quintet applies the head-solos-head format imaginatively to ten originals and a cover of Ornette Coleman's "Dancing in Your Head (which perhaps takes its child-like wonder a little too much at face value), helped by the fact that the heads and the solos are uniformly excellent.
The compositions are anything but offhand. "Benevolent Psychopathology sounds a little like Monk's "Well You Needn't, taken slightly sideways. The combination of gentle guitar and a slightly eerie trumpet/reed statement of the theme of "I'm Being Held Hostage to Your Failure, meanwhile, invites favorable comparison to the ballads from Paul Motian's recent Garden of Eden (ECM, 2006). The rousing closer, "Good God, seems to be inspired by James Brown. (The title's oblique reference to the Godfather of Soul strengthens my conviction that drummer Marc Gratama is indeed quoting Brown's "Funky Drummer in the fading moments of "Dancing In Your Head. )
Solos are edgy, adventurous, and barely under controland I mean that as a compliment; frequent bouts of simultaneous soloing (sax and trumpet on the Coleman cover, or flute and trumpet on "Spinach Dip ) are especially exciting. Amidst the improvisational plenty of Well Behaved Fish, it seems caddish to single out particular solos for commendation, but Grismore's guitar-synth playing on "Cletus N'gugu sounds like both a Fender Rhodes and an African thumb piano, and Brent Sandy's Clifford Brown-meets-Cynthia Robinson trumpet on "Good God will stay with me for some time.
The record's improvisational strength is enhanced by the unconventional texture of the group's performance, including some sounds which can be difficult to attribute to a given instrument. Given that no keyboardist is credited in the liner notes, I'm assuming these are down to either Grismore's guitar synth or the afflatus of Scea's mysterious-sounding "wind controller. Taut rhythm adds to the appeal: Gratama's drumming would not sound out of place in a Live/Evil-era Miles Davis performance, although bassist Anthony Cox's playing is considerably more supple than Michael Henderson's work with the early-'70s Davis group.
Immensely likeable, fun and smart, Well Behaved Fish is an argument for adding Iowa City (Grismore's home base and the place where the disc was recorded) to the list of jazz capitals-in-waiting.
Personnel: Steve Grismore: guitar, guitar synth; Paul Scea: saxes, flute, wind controller; Brent Sandy: trumpet; Anthony Cox: bass; Marc Gratama: drums, synth drums and percussion.