Fierce isn't the most inviting album title in the world. People with a penchant for gauging albums based on single-word descriptors could be scared off here, but they'd be missing out on some bold performances that are creative and, yes, occasionally fierce.
Some of the most striking music coming out these days seems to lack chordal cushioning. Bassist Linda May Han Oh turned plenty of heads with her piano-less trio, featuring trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and saxophonist JD Allen's tuneful trio pieces have recently raised his profile in the jazz community. Now, saxophonist Patrick Cornelius has thrown his hat in the ring. While two additional horn playersvalve trombonist Nick Vayenas and tenor saxophonist Mark Smalljoin the group for certain tracks, this record still largely functions as a trio outing.
The album opens with the snaking saxophone line of the title track, met with unison hits from bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Johnathan Blake, the three musicians simultaneously function as individuals and a single entity as things progress. "Hopscotch" is a lively tune underscored by Janisch's shifting bass accents. The bassist proves to be a rhythmically vital presence throughout the album, and both he and Blake give this piece a funky undercurrent.
Cornelius' compositions are often presented with disarming clarity, as on "Maybe Steps," but different elements are at play on each. When Vayenas makes his first appearance on "Two Seventy-Eight," the music becomes more intense and urgent in nature; saxophone and valve trombone moving together, traversing the spiky interval path that Cornelius set up for them, as the piece undergoes a metamorphosis of alarming proportions. After Cornelius' solo, an edge-of-your-seat, up-tempo groove takes over beneath Vayenas. Things eventually peter out, leaving a gap for Blake to go wild, and then the band returns to the more comfortable introductory feel. Small's first foray into the fray is in a more subtle setting, both saxophones seeming to branch off of one another, crossing streams and working in a codependent fashion on "First Dance."
Janisch's bass line locks things in place on "The Incident," which features some playful soloing from Cornelius. Vayenas gets bolder and more brazen when Blake adds cymbal bell accents to the groove, and everybody seems to be having a blast. "Home With You" is the only ballad-like performance on the album; while "One Thing" starts off in a mellow mood, the band ultimately takes off, with Blake's snare-based solo exploration the highlight. The album finally finishes with a metrically twisted take on the blues. Cornelius's music is certainly fierce at times, but a sense of freedom and fun are also in play.
Fierce; Hopscotch; Maybe Steps; Two Seventy-Eight; First Dance; The Incident; Home with You; One Thing; New Blues.
Patrick Cornelius: alto saxophone; Michael Janisch: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums; Nick Vayenas: valve trombone (4, 6, 9); Mark Small: tenor saxophone (5).
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