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Herculaneum: Herculaneum III

Nic Jones By

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In some respects what we have here is music that's a step on from Jimmy Giuffre's work in the 1950s, but if it's the chamber music notion that unites the two bodies of work across the intervening half-century, it's clear that this band marches to a rhythmically more vigorous aesthetic. The music is at times alive with a kind of tensile energy that similarly invalidates the Giuffre comparison, but what unites the two is a sense of exploration, of goals ill-defined and thus made all the more worthy of pursuit.

As much as anywhere else, this comes across on "Prosecco/mcv," where looseness of rhythmic input is perhaps more compelling than the solo voices, especially when an off-kilter unison passage has the effect of forewarding David McDonnell's alto sax solo. He's clearly fired by what's going on around him, though not to the extent that he resorts to screaming through his horn. The resulting collective fire is a refreshing one.

"Mahogany" has trace elements of the quartet Paul Desmond had with Jim Hall; the lyricism that was always a hallmark of that group is here in shades, but in his solo, guitarist John Beard favors a harder, less harmonically oblique approach than Hall.

Echoes of time-honored West Coast tropes are rife on "Egyptian Femme," although in this case it's the more abstract work of some of Shelly Manne's groups that hold sway. This doesn't matter anyway as such is the nature of the music these days that perhaps that represents one of the many avenues less explored.

The ensemble's balance is best exemplified by "Red Dawn," where the underlying anxiety of the line is offset by the deft handling of material. The chorale of the horns serves as a jump-off point for improvisation on the part of both McDonnell again on alto sax and trumpeter Patrick Newbery, whose sometimes quasi-militaristic phrasing conjures up the parade ground at some even more dystopian point in the future.

"Eyeball" is the piece least accommodating with the past. Meter is largely abandoned at first, in favor of vaguely ominous washes of sound, before things settle down in a less abstract vein. Again the horns serve a kind of choral purpose which sets them at odds with the rhythmic momentum, but the resulting tension, never resolved as it is, affords the soloists the greater freedom.


Track Listing: The Sparrow; Prosecco/mcv; Italian Ice; Golden monarch; Eyeball; Lavender Panther; Egyptian Femme; Red Dawn; Mahogany.

Personnel: Patrick Newbery: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nick Broste: trombone; David McDonnell: alto sax, clarinet; Nate Lepine: flute; Greg Danek: bass; Dylan Ryan: drums, vibes.

Title: Herculaneum III | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records

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