Michael Karn’s maiden voyage as a leader reveals an accomplished tenor saxophonist who is capable of shaping the sound of a quintet like a veteran. His playing is influenced by Coltrane, Mobley, Gordon, and Henderson, but nonetheless has attained an impressive degree of individuality. Similarly, the band’s sound can be placed in the modern mainstream, and Karn’s choice of material and utilization of his excellent sidemen makes the music sound fresh and inviting.
As outright exciting as Karn’s playing is, there’s nothing superficial about the manner in which he carefully builds his solos to a climax. On his composition “Momentum” and Grant Green’s “Grant’s Tune,” the details that go into getting there are as important as the moments when he swings hard and with authority. Karn’s capacity to coherently juggle a number of ideas is apparent during “One Bedroom Blues,” where he comes across as a no-nonsense, straight-ahead player. His honking introduction to Clifford Jordan’s “The Highest Mountain” signals that something special is about to occur; and sure enough, he deftly works his way through the complex structure of the tune, alternatively dancing over and interacting with bassist Reuben Rogers and the drums of Gregory Hutchinson.
Although they don’t play on every track, guitarist Peter Bernstein and pianist David Hazeltine make their voices heard as soloists and ensemble players. Combining marvelously precise phrasing with occasional flights of fancy, Hazeltine’s solo on “One Bedroom Blues” is worth repeated listenings. “D and B,” Karn’s intimate ballad, finds the pianist offering restrained accompaniment that enables the tenor saxophonist to convey his tender message.