Frolic and bassoon is not an overly used collocation, but it is an entirely appropriate one in the case of Paul Hanson, whose playing on the bassoon, surely the blackest sheep of jazz instruments, is exuberant, playful, energetic and joyous, and it has to be said quite breathtaking throughout Frolic in the Land of Plenty.
On Brazilian mandolinist Jacob do Bandolim's "Flight of the Fly," Caito Marcondes (on pandeiro a tambourine-like instrument) acts as a foil for Hanson's liquid lines which are more Charlie Parker than Maurice Ravel. Throughout the mostly self-penned tunes Hanson handles his bassoon like a sax and this is heard to great effect on the lovely "Parallax" where his buoyant, effortlessly fluid lines stand out against the sanguine accompaniment of bass, Fender Rhodes and flugelhorn.
Propelled by drummer Dennis Chambers, (who shares the drum stool with Paul Van Wageningen) "Emerald Mile" shifts through the gears and transports Hanson's bassoon-playing to a place where comparisons with violinist Jerry Goodman are not out of place at all. As phenomenal as his technique is however, composition plays as important a role as improvisation in Hanson's music; on the Balcans-flavoured "Dark Soul" which sees Hanson take another extended solo replete with ideas, the strength of the tune and the weight given to the ensemble as a whole is evident.
On the title track, a lone bassoon rises ethereally like Uilleann pipes cutting through an Irish mist, before a tremendously funky Ozric Tentacles-like, electro-beat lifts the song. Hanson improvises magnificently as the song soars and swings at the same time " an album highlight.
From the hard-bop of "Goof Troup" to the Romanian-inspired fling of "Subtle Demons," the power grooves of "Scrool" and the relaxed, lyrical tones of "Sacred Love," Hanson displays both his varied influences and his versatility. On "Subtle Demons," Haroun Serang's electric guitar and Hanson's electric bassoon make for unlikely bed fellows, but they so work well together that you couldn't really tell them apart!
Keyboardist Eric Levy takes a starring role on Fender Rhodes and shares piano duties with Armen Chakmakian. In general the subtle instrumentation a touch of acoustic guitar here, a burst of violin there or the intervention of a trumpet or flugelhorn lends much color to the compositions. However, it is the bassoon of Paul Hanson which steals the show; it would be as easy to imagine Hanson's extraordinary playing in a Rabih Abou Khalil ensemble, or with the late Frank Zappa a kindred spirit for his unconventional, adventurous and highly musical approach to his instrument and his art.
Track Listing: Flight of the Fly; Parallax; Emerald Mile; Dark Soul; Frolic in the Land of Plenty; Goog Troup; Subtle Demons; Scrool; Sacred Love
Personnel: Paul Hanson: bassoons, tenor sax (6); Dennis Chambers: drums (3,4,7,8); Paul Van Wageningen: drums (2,6,9); Victor Little: bass; Eric Levy: Fender Rhodes (2,3,8,9), piano (8); Armen Chakmakian: piano (3), Fender Rhodes (3,4); Tracy Silverman: violin (3,4); Mike Olmos: trumpet (6), flugelhorn (2); Caito Marcondes:Pandeiro; Haroun Serang: guitars (4,7,8), electro beats (5)