Seattle trumpeter/composer Chad McCullough makes his recording debut as a leader with Dark Wood, Dark Water, a diverse sextet outing featuring eight original compositions and a fresh take on the Lennon/McCartney classic "Blackbird." Along with the all-star rhythm section of pianist Bill Anschell, bassist Jeff Johnson and Drummer John Bishop, McCullough is joined by saxophonists Mark Taylor and Geof Bradfield.
McCullough proves a thoughtful improviser with technique to spare. His soloing on the opening "Three Pillars" and "Blackbird" builds from low-keyed rumblings to upper register, drawn-out runs. While many freshman discs result in nothing more than a showcase for an artists blazing chops, McCullough exhibits a refreshingly lyrical approach, especially on the warm-textured waltz "Home" and the brooding "Bock's Car." Trumpet players will appreciate the spirited blowing on the up-tempo swinger "Nightmare's Dance" and the Latin-inspired "Anatomy of Conscience." The latter features a fiery back-and-forth between McCullough and Bradfield.
As a composer, McCullough develops simple themes into enticing musical statements, enhanced by lush harmonic progressions. These characteristics give the disc an invigorating momentum, especially on plaintive pieces such as "Lock Down" and 'The Oracle."
Solo space is spread around equally, allowing Taylor and Bradfield plenty of opportunity to shine. Taylor's sizzling bebop turns on "Nightmare's Dance" stand out as a disc highlight. Anschell, Johnson and Bishop are a provocative rhythm section, able to keep things grounded while firing off explosive improvised rounds.
All in all, Dark Wood, Dark Water is an impressive first round for one of Seattle's young musical gems.
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