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New Tricks: Alternate Side...

Greg Simmons By

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Here's something you don't read in album liner notes every day: "We recorded in Shawn's apartment...using only blankets wrapped around music stands for audio separation." New Tricks has seemingly recorded Alternate Side... in some no-frills circumstances, but there's truth in the old saying that adversity sometimes brings out the best in people.

This piano-less collective, featuring a trumpet and tenor sax front line, plays an energetic brawl of traded solos, hard bop melodies, and freely constructed harmonization. Likely because of the way it was recorded, Alternate Side... has a live-in-studio feel to it—four guys just playing in a room—and they sound like they're really enjoying the session.

All of the tracks are originals by either trumpeter Ted Chubb or saxophonist Mike Lee, and there is so little daylight between them that it's impossible to tell who wrote what without reading the notes. While the songs serve as an improvisation platform, they are also very intricately composed, with the two horns weaving amongst each other. But this should not suggest the cool, polished delivery of the Chet Baker- Gerry Mulligan quartets of the 1950s. Everything on the record is informed by a powerful, downtown, emotive strain. In some places Lee sounds like he's been taking notes from David Murray, with slurred arpeggios and a raw delivery. Chubb is a little more circumspect, but still a highly inventive soloist. In places, like Lee's "Short Steps," they comp the melody behind each other's solos, creating an aural background that adds texture without getting in the way.

The rhythm section, Kellen Harrison on bass and Shawn Baltazor on drums is also noteworthy. There are no softly swishing brushes or restrained plucking on this date. These guys came to play, hard (actually Baltazor didn't come to the date, it came to his apartment). The quartet locks into a truly collective sound, with equal creative voicing throughout.

Despite the truly composed nature of the music, the hallmark of this album is its loose performance. No one in this band is looking to win points with technical harmonic precision. Instead, it has a feeling of four musicians who know the tunes inside out, but are toying with them, improvising a harmony here, alternating a line there, and playing off the beat throughout. The result is a truly creative record that trades in spontaneity rather than polish.

With no overdubbed corrections after the fact, a minimalist recording setup, and a quick-and-dirty live performance feel, albums like Alternate Side... are not terribly common, but they should be. It's the most honest kind of recording, with nowhere for the musicians to hide and everyone captured just as they are. Done right, with a good band, it can be a very rewarding experience. Alternate Side... brings all those qualities to the table.

Track Listing: Alternate Side Parking; Optimistic-Lee; Shellen vs. Chee; Vincenza Days; Back to Work; Long Road Home; New Dog; Short Stops; Skeltazor.

Personnel: Ted Chubb: trumpet; Mike Lee: tenor saxophone; Kellen Harrison: bass; Shawn Baltazor: drums.

Title: Alternate Side... | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Self Produced


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