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Samo Salamon NYC Quintet: Government Cheese

John Kelman By

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It's may be possible to define an artist by the company he/she keeps, but the harsher economics of the 21st Century jazz world make it an axiom that doesn't always hold true. It's not difficult to enlist big-name artists on a recording if one has the cash. Still, it's a positive sign when first encounters turn into ongoing relationships. Both altoist David Binney and bassist Mark Helias have worked with Samo Salamon before, but Government Cheese, featuring the guitarist's NYC Quintet, brings all three together for the first time, along with drummer Gerald Cleaver and trombonist Josh Roseman.

Still based in Slovenia, Salamon has increased his international exposure in the space of a few short years through persistent touring and recording. Government Cheese, his second disc for FSNT, is another one-day session like 2005's Two Hours, but it finds Salamon growing in confidence and depth. Earlier albums like Ornethology (Samo, 2003) were a little too rooted in the approach of John Scofield, but Salamon's voice continues to distinguish itself on this date, which combines complex form, periods of pure freedom, unabashed lyricism and, at times, some kick-ass grooves.

The metrically challenging "The Bee and the Knee, with a core riff doubled by Roseman and Helias on top of Cleaver's loose funk, would sound at home on a Dave Holland quintet record. Salamon adopts a gritty tone for an opening salvo of trade-offs with Roseman before returning to the initial theme, which expands into a lengthy and powerful Binney solo. The equally propulsive "Eat the Monster is even more charged: Roseman and Binney trade against each other at first, then the situation turns into a three-way free-for-all when Salamon enters with staggered lines of reckless abandon.

The majority of the writing creates contexts for changeless solos, a reference to Salamon's love of Ornette Coleman. Still, on the deceptive "Her Name, which alternates between dark balladry and a more propulsive thematic segment, Helias is given the chance to work through Salamon's warm voicings; Roseman takes over when the tempo picks up. Similarly, "The Last Goodbye is a more melodic piece where a relaxed pace obscures its irregular meter.

It might seem that Government Cheese is schizophrenic in nature—from fiery grooves to open-ended freedom and soft elegance. Still, Salamon's growing ability to weave thematic lines throughout—both scored and improvised—provides a unified arc that ebbs and flows over the course of these fifty minutes. This is another fine record from an artist whose persistence and hard work is paying off, and whose name is gaining recognition with every passing year.


Track Listing: How They Washed My Brain; The Bee and the Knee; Her Name; Eat the Monster; It Rains When It Falls; The Last Goodbye; Up and Down.

Personnel: Samo Salamon: guitar; David Binney: alto saxophone; Josh Roseman: trombone; Mark Helias: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

Title: Government Cheese | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent

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