Caleb Wheeler Curtis is a noted voice in the modern world of alto saxophone, in large part due to his association with fellow artists. Most significantly, his work with Philadelphia-based pianist Orrin Evans and the "village" of creative participants within has put a spotlight on his style which attaches itself to tradition while exhibiting a willingness to explore new territory. On his most recent release Ain't No Storm, he presents eleven original compositions that feature fellow Evans bandmates Mark Whitfield Jr. (drums), Luques Curtis (bass), Josh Lawrence (trumpet) and Evans himself.
Seven of the eleven tracks are without chordal support, matching Wheeler Curtis with Lawrence and tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas on the front line, supported by Whitfield and Curtis. Vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles lends her voice to Curtis' existential lyrics on the title track, and paints abstract images on the aptly titled "The Importance of Abstraction," the one piece which includes Evans' subtle support and melodic intervention on piano.
"La Tortuga" features pianist Julius Rodriguez as the primary soloist, playing wandering melodic figures through the chant-like harmonic structure set up by the trio ensemble work of the front line. "A Cautionary Tale In Two Parts'' is a variation on a recurring theme, with Curtis and Doxas offering singing, angular passages. Musically, the short piece is a prelude to much of what is to come, with Wheeler Curtis' inventive, probing lines projected by a strong, identifiable voice. While his playing always carries a river-like torrent of projected sound, when unencumbered by chordal sequence, in a pianoless setting as is the case on much of this recording, it is more akin to that river jumping its banks and meandering to natural pathways while still bearing a resemblance to its source. Having close musical associates Curtis and Whitfield Jr. in the flow brings out the best in the intrepid altoist, as is the case with Lawrence and Doxas.
Wheeler Curtis' playing bears only a slight resemblance to what would seem traditional alto fare or, for that matter, modern free form trappings. Whether contributing to the quartet Walking Distance, Orrin Evans' Captain Black Big Band, or his own solo projects, he has seemingly stepped aside from such expectations. Ain't No Storm carries his artistry out of the darkness of the worldwide pandemic of 2020, into the new light and hope of what is to come when we can gather once again in 2021.
La Tortuga; Day 3; Torrential; The Importance of Abstraction; Ain't No Storm; The Others; Failure is
an Option; A Cautionary Tale in Two Parts; That Which Cannit Be Replaced; Dystopia; Portrait
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