Andrew Rathbun: Character Study

Jerome Wilson By

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The political and social landscape of the last couple of years has inspired music that expresses anger, sorrow, solidarity and other strong feelings. For saxophonist Andrew Rathbun, the times have brought up reflections on what "character" means and what is the place of integrity, honesty and conviction in the modern world. Some of this was addressed in his recent large ensemble recording, Atwood Suites, (Origin, 2018) and it's also the focus of this quintet disc.

Without pointing fingers at any specific individual, the composition titles give indication of the music's meanings and the band plays with fire and purpose. The two horn players create a strong blended sound. Rathbun's tenor sax is often garrulous and penetrating while Tim Hagans's trumpet alternates between fiery spurts and more subdued and gentle ideas. The contrast between the two is most prevalent on the funk-infused agitation of "Turmoil" and the strutting swing of "Character Study," where Hagan's muted singing follows Rathbun's buzzing aggression like Miles Davis following Wayne Shorter in their legendary quintet. Meanwhile the rhythm players, pianist Gary Versace, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Bill Stewart, construct flexible but firm paths under the front line. Versace's versatility here is exceptional. He provides consistently strong accompaniments like a dreamy interlude between screaming tenor and trumpet solos on "The Golden Fool" and an ominous pulsing base underneath the harmonized soaring of "Team Of Rivals."

Wayne Shorter is also evoked in the sharp, off-kilter thoughtfulness of Rathbun's writing and playing. Appropriately then, the one non-original of the set is Shorter's "Etcetera," which is played with compelling force. The leader's tenor wriggles and snorts over furious bass and drums and Hagans blows streams of soaring notes over Versace's descending chords. Then the pianist works through weightless solo ruminations before locking down into a hard-edge groove with Anderson and Stewart.

It's not all teeth-gritting intensity on this set. "Alphabet Deaf and Forever Blind" strikes a calmer note with the horns yearning over elegantly dark piano. "His Quiet Determination" begins with a rich solo tenor exploration that develops into a full blown ballad when the rhythm section arrives. Rathbun and Hagans sound particularly lovely together spreading out a lovely, soul-tinged melody. On "The Long Awakening" it's Versace turn for the delicate solo introduction. Eventually the horns glide in and lead the band into a slow, drifting waltz.

This is sharp and dynamic work. Andrew Rathbun is a strong composer and player and his quintet is full of able musicians who bring in diverse complementary perspectives. This creates a current of determination and alertness throughout this music that feels appropriate for these uncertain times.

Track Listing: The Golden Fool; Team Of Rivals; Alphabet Deaf And Forever Blind; His Quiet Determination; Etcetera; The Long Awakening; Character Study; Turmoil.

Personnel: Andrew Rathbun: tenor saxophone; Tim Hagans: trumpet; Gary Versace: piano; Jay Anderson: bass; Bill Stewart: drums.

Title: Character Study | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: SteepleChase Records

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