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Gerry Hemingway Quintet: Double Blues Crossing

John Eyles By

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If Gerry Hemingway's other 2005 release, The Whimbler—with his current quartet—presented a surprisingly straight-ahead facet of his music, this quintet album is far more intriguing and, well, strange. Opening to the (sampled) sounds of old-time fiddle-driven folk music, the seven-part title suite sounds like the soundtrack to some yet-to-be-made movie. In his sleeve notes, Hemingway even gives us an intriguing taster that reads like something from Steinbeck, with its characters Rosa Abigail, Buddy Luckett and Joe Cracklin.

Although the suite moves seamlessly between sections, like a soundtrack it is episodic, featuring frequent shifts of mood and tempo. It enhances its atmosphere by integrating sampled material seamlessly alongside composed and improvised music, most obviously bullfrogs and crickets (I think!). The written ensemble passages utilize all of the players to excellent effect, allowing space for their individual voices to be heard but never to dominate. Of the five, Hemingway himself is the least visible, never in the spotlight but always underpinning the band. At its best, as on "It Ain't Slippery But It's Wet, the band achieves the kind of loosely anarchic swing that is very difficult to achieve without becoming too rigid or too loose: the musical equivalent of tightrope walking.

Following the suite, the three remaining tracks present contrasting facets of the quintet. "Rallier allows solo space for individuals, featuring Frank Gratowski on bass clarinet, a barnstormer from Wolter Wiebos on trombone, plus an all too brief solo spot for Hemingway himself, before coming to a climax with a tasty ensemble riff. In complete contrast, "Night Town/Tent is a cool, impressionistic composition with marimba and strings well to the fore. The closer, "Slowly Rising, lives up to its title—with a loping rhythm reminiscent of township jazz and fine interplay between the horns, it smolders without ever quite catching fire.

Track Listing: Double Blues Crossing: Buddy Luckett

Personnel: Frank Gratowski: clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone; Wolter Wierbos: trombone; Amit Sen: cello; Kermit Driscoll: acoustic and electric bass; Gerry Hemingway: drums, marimba, sampler.

Title: Double Blues Crossing | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Between the Lines

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