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Pianist/composer Mike Holober's songs brim with shifting textures and moods, like the color changes wrought by the inexorbably-shifting angles of sunlight playing upon the striations of a canyon wall. Holober spends free time hiking and climbing, and he wrote the title tune for Canyon after a trip to Utah's Paria Canyon, an experience that inspired a song full of seamlessly shifting grooves.
Those shifts and changes within a composition – done while maintaining an entrancing accessibility – are Holober's stock in trade.
On board for this debut effort are Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade, drums – two guys giving creedence to those Downbeat Critics Polls they've won – and soprano and tenor saxophonist Mike Ries (who has toured with the Rolling Stones, and let's hope that doesn't get in the way of his jazz efforts), plus guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel. The band's sound is sharp and clean, intricately arranged, mostly bright and optimistic – excepting "Roc and a Soft Place," a wonderfully dark tribute to the late saxophonist Joe Roccisano.
Holober's piano style can be compared to a handful of Miles Davis alumni, perhaps: Bill Evans or Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock; but it's his tunes and the ensemble interplay rather than his instrumental prowess that hold sway on Canyon ; and after seven fine Holober compositions, the disc closes out with two standards, "You and the Night and the Music" and "Stardust," the former getting a piquant and upbeat treatment that starts out with Holober accompanying guitarist Muthspiel for an interlude of flowing low-key sting.
The arrangements here don't call attention to themselves but are absolutely first-rate, begging for repeated listens – and listen to Ries' Stan Getz-esque sax solo on the closer in front of the band's cool simmer. Marvelous!
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.