Crows, a new recording by saxophonist Barry Deister's quintet, embodies a series of tone poems designed to depict in musical terms various features of the area in and around Portland, Oregona locale that Deister and his colleagues call homeas part of the Portland Images Project. Their themes range from ephemeral ("Winter Wind," "Fog," "Cascade Sunrise") to material ("Yellow Flower," "The Falls," "Crows") with one ("Burnside Blues") depicting a street that traverses the length of the city and theoretically splits it in half.
Those who have not been to the Portland area to see or experience any of these sights or phenomena need not be disheartened; once a song has begun, the charm of the music and the talent of the musicians are the only particulars that really matter. In this case, the charm may vary but the talent remains constant. Every member of Deister's ensemble is a leading light on the Portland jazz scene, and it shows. In other words, everyone pulls his weight, and there is nothing less than laudable to be said about the quintet. Solos are sharp and persuasive, the rhythms trim and compatible in the capable hands of pianist Randy Porter, bassist Jon Lakey and drummer Tim Rapp (whose name is misspelled on the album cover).
As for the music, it has its highs and lows, as would be true of any medley whose purpose is to create sonic portraits. Although it surely was not planned that way, a pair of highlights arrive late: the radiant "Yellow Flower," on which Deister trades his tenor for a flute to complement Paul Mazzio's dancing flugelhorn; and the buoyant, boppish finale, "Burnside Blues," wherein everyone toes the line and Deister, Mazzio and Porter have some of their finest moments. The mood is shadowy and subdued on "Winter Wind" and "The Falls," lightens a bit to depict the colorful "Cascade Sunrise," and shifts to a higher gear to delineate the high-flying "Crows" (with Mazzio's muted trumpet prompting their flight). That leaves "Fog," whose nebulous posture and moderate tempo lie somewhere in between.
Setting aside the pictorial concept, what remains is a rather engaging quintet session, ably performed by some of the Portland area's more accomplished jazz musicians. By-and-large, the music is admirable, the jazz component splendid. In other words, Crows should be assigned a high place in any pecking order.
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