Boston guitarist Jeff Platz's Bright Light Group combines free jazz noise with an underlying rock sensibility and feel. What's interesting about the group's eponymously titled debut CD is that these elements fuse to produce an oddly relaxed, even insouciant result.
The quintet is composed of guitarist Platz, acoustic bassist Kit Demos, trumpeter Scott Getchell, altoist Jim Hobbs, and drummer Django Carranza. The latter two play together in Hobbs' Fully Celebrated Orchestra, which shares a similar sound and aesthetic: a fondness for Ornette Coleman-ish, singsong, offkilter themes; an interest in sound and tone over refined technique; and an elusive but undeniable rock feel (Carranza being a primary factor in this last trait: he hits his drums hard).
With one exception, Platz is the composer here, not Hobbs, and he favors simpler, more skeletal frameworksas opposed to Hobbs' more composed, genre-parodying pieces. "You're So You begins with a characteristic Ornette theme until Getchell's open trumpet languidly takes charge (this album gets noisy at times, but never panicky or frantic), seeming to almost test the parameters of the song. Hobbs takes over with a blatting solo of long, smearing, foghorn honks as Carranza and Demos adjust, respond and build intensityand up steps leader Platz with his own solo statement of chunching, ringing electric guitar, sounding here like the long-awaited successor to the late Sonny Sharrock. Eventually his waves of feedback trail into silence and the tune fades.
Jazz is almost always composed of players soloing in turn, but seldom does it feels so relaxed, yet formalalmost ritualistic. There's almost no comping on the album; therefore the rhythm section of Demos and the endlessly inventive Carranza are of utmost importance.
Both Platz and Hobbs seem fascinated with the mechanics of their instruments, with investigating the limits of the sounds their devices will produce. Both seem more concerned with the textural qualities of sound than with precision; their solos are always effective but hardly fastidious. In a war of noise, an electric guitar always winsbut on this session Platz defers to Hobbs, mostly sticking to a reverbey, spaghetti-western, almost surf-rock tone, especially on "Bright Light where Hobbs' alto dissimilarly produces pure, squonking noise until his solo shifts into a flurry of art-damaged R&B minimalism. He's not the neatest alto player around, but he may be the best.
It's trumpeter Getchell, though, that contributes the best tune: his "Bull Ring Road is a sweet, beautiful groove ballad built on a simple bass vamp and an odd, dissonant melody, first stated by his trumpet, then Hobbs' altoover a simple but very effective Carranza ride/snare pattern. The song culminates in a three-way dialogue between Platz, Hobbs, and Getchell that's thrilling and sublime.
Bright Light Group is a great album from a fine bandwhich, along with its kindred Fully Celebrated Orchestra, seems to be inventing a new genre: Beantown free-jazz rock fusion? Let's call it Boston Frusion.