Bill McHenry's eclectic sound, blending West Coast cool with the restless interplay of New York's downtown practitioners, has matured into a uniquely personal voice over the past decade and a half. On Sonic Pressure, the tenorist teams up with Duane Eubanks (trumpet), Pete Rende (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Jeff Williams (drums); recorded live at Fat Cat, the disc gives an accurate portrait of five creative minds at work. One of the nice qualities of Sonic Pressure is that it avoids the urban hypertension so often associated with big city jazz, offering instead a relatively relaxed and unhurried reading of modern life as interpreted through the bell of a horn. On "The Hit," for example, McHenry begins with a breathy, sibilant tone and, leisurely pacing himself, piles on ideas like kindling, finally reaching a smoldering glow; the rhythm section meanwhile takes liberties with the time, creating push and pull, engaging the alto in a 'tri-alogue.' The session is noteworthy for the minimalist but well-conceived arrangements, alternation of free and composed sections and high level of combo compatibility and interactivity.
Rediscovery, which McHenry co-leads with his former teacher and mentor John McNeil, is an extension of the latter's previous release, East Coast Cool, which also combined elements of free improv and cool. A pianoless quartet with Joe Martin (bass) and Jochen Rueckert (drums), the group's configuration leaves plenty of elbow room in the mix, an opportunity that McHenry and McNeil fully exploit by lacing implied reharmonizations into their improvised lines, or by abandoning harmonic constraints altogether. The set list exhumes and revitalizes a number of lesser-known gems, including George Wallington's "Godchild," Russ Freeman's "Band Aid" and "Happy Little Sunbeam" (McNeil sounds like he's chuckling to himself as he plays over it), Leo Diamond's "Off Shore" and Wilbur Harden's "Rhodomagnetics." McHenry's playing is subtle and mercurial, providing an excellent foil for McNeil's masterfully concise and well-wrought solo statements.
Tracks & Personnel
Tracks: Night Owl; The Hit; Pollack Springs; Wru; The Losers; Felix; Clubs.
Personnel: Bill McHenry: tenor saxophone; Duane Eubanks: trumpet; Pete Rende: piano; Matt Penman: bass; Jeff Williams.
Tracks: Rediscovery; Godchild; Band Aid; Off Shore; Rhodomagnetics; Soft Shoe; Happy Little Sunbeam; I'll Get By; Marvos Manny; Time Travel.
Personnel: John McNeil: trumpet; Bill McHenry: tenor saxophone; Joe Martin: bass; Jochen Rueckert: drums.