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Guitarist Steve Cardenas sports an unassuming style, devoid of histrionics. He favors clean tones, solid rhythms and cagey harmonies for a subtle, supportive approach. It's a combination he's used to help shape the music of drummers Paul Motian
, with whom he's developed a strong rapport in the latter's group. Their interaction propels the mostly mid-tempo, blues-rock-influenced material, which doesn't shatter any boundaries but reflects the leader's tastefully crafted aesthetic.
"Burt" opens with a clean, rhythmic line and rockish groove that Royston colors with quick accents and fills. Allison takes a throbbing turn featuring his percussive string attack, eliciting a fluttered retort from Cardenas and tight snare cracks from the drummer. A tumbling movement permeates "Roundup," with the guitarist and bassist parrying notes without a firmly established beat, until Royston's ride pattern entices Allison to join as Cardenas continues to riff. A stiff mid-tempo backbeat supports the title track, its song-like theme ripe for Cardenas' fluid improvisations.
's "Blue Streak," finds a grittier tone from Cardenas in the opening section before the knotty movement and clipped rhythmic support of the main theme asserts itself. "The Horse You Rode in On" boasts a woozy melodic line that Royston plays off of nicely, punching up the slippery guitar. The leader's shimmering guitar smolders, eventually reaching a climactic crescendo on "Drifting." "Backroad" closes the set and as the trio starts to stretch out, they draw to an abrupt finish, with a tantalizing hint of a less-restrained sound.
Clocking in at about 40 minutes, with only one song reaching the 5:30 mark, West of Middle is a taut collection, Cardenas' concise songs provoking lively dialogue without becoming garrulous.
Track Listing: Burt; Roundup; West Of Middle; Blue Streak; Spindle; The Horse You Rode In On; Drifter; RR; Backroad.
Personnel: Steve Cardenas: guitar; Ben Allison: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.