The third and final installment in the Groundtruther trilogy may also be the most highly anticipated, since the inclusion of John Medeski in the Charlie Hunter/Bobby Previte axis would seem to be a highly combustible mix. Yet Altitude, rather than the resounding finish to the project, is something of a mixed bag, perhaps more so than the artists intended.
But that may be because it is also the most ambitious. This is a double CD compared to the single sets of Latitude (Thirsty Ear, 2004), with Greg Osby, and Longitude (Thirsty Ear, 2005), with DJ Logic. Add to that the fact that Hunter, Previte and Medeski step out of their mutual comfort zone: on the highly flammable likes of "Pyramid of Giza, they attempt the creation of haunting moods using acoustic instruments only.
It's little surprise that Medeski sounds most prominent on the Below Sea Level CD. He regularly plays acoustic shows alone and with his usual cohorts, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood. It stands to reason, therefore, that his acoustic piano would dominate the proceedings. Yet his use of melodica, a novelty at times in other contexts, truly conjures up ghostly moods on "Subduction Zone and "Evaporites.
Meanwhile. Previte gains prominence on various means of percussion as the truncated tracks come and go. Hunter, however, loses his musical personality on an acoustic seven-string guitar; the three almost but not quite mass a cumulative effect through sixteen cuts in forty-two minutes, the progression almost but not quite a duet between Previte and Medeski with Hunter trying to find his way.
Above Sea Level is an altogether different matter, predictably so perhaps given the pedigreed skill of Medeski, Hunter and Previte in mixing beats and noise with the right proportion of melody. Yet, even though you can hear the roiling likes of "Seoul Tower coming, the end result is no less satisfying. Perhaps in compensation for his low-profile on the acoustic session, Charlie Hunter ramps up the effects and the volume on his electric seven-string so that the threesome rock with a vengeance within a maelstrom of sound.
The recording mix begs to be played at a sufficiently high volume to allow the listener to become immersed in the sound. The discriminating use of electric guitar and some more bottom would've made a huge difference, because the electric half of Altitude has its dynamic contrasts ("Warsaw Radio Mast ), which is just what the acoustic session lacks to the same degree. Perhaps an extra fifteen minutes or so of playing time on Below Sea Level, to equal that of its companion piece, would render these lessons in stylistic contrast equally absorbing.
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