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There's a fresh breeze blowing through A Guide To Desolation Wilderness, as if something peculiarly folkloric were gently stirring up the Paxselin Quartet's more obvious antecedents in Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy. Perhaps it's in the intricate dance of bassist Bill Athens and drummer Steve Pancerev. Or maybe it's in the horns of Mary Sue Tobin and Chad Hensel.
Tobin provides several key points of interest, playing blues-drenched alto saxophone with a thick, tangy sound. She's rooted in Coleman and Charlie Parker, but as with the clarity of her "Blues For Ornette" improvisation, the tone is her own. Chad Hensel's bass clarinet may summon the benign shade of Dolphy, but the intensity is all Hensel.
The quartet grounds its music in the interlocking dancing of Athens and Pancerev. Athens' sturdy bass can be swinging ("3PaxselinOne") or funky ("Death And The Child"), always ably directing musical traffic. Drummer Pancerev does a nimble tap dance around the bass, and when he and Athens lock in together, the effect is most stimulating.
The members of the Paxselin Quartet aren't content to merely imitate their models. Rather, they seek their own voices, rooted in the tradition, but reflecting their own mind. At its best, this music has a yearning quality, perhaps a call from Oregon, where these musicians make their home. Whatever that sound may be, it gives A Guide To Desolation Wilderness a unique, profoundly American flavor.