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Hush Point: John McNeil: Hush Point

Dave Wayne By

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Anyone who has played music with others on a regular basis understands inherently that, during a live performance, the sounds emanating from the instruments themselves have a way of clashing or canceling each other out. It's all in the frequencies. Bass and toms get mixed up on the low end, cymbals can kill a clarinet or soprano saxophone. It's not a coincidence that many horn players breath a sigh of relief when they see the drummer go to the brushes. Suddenly, the bass doesn't need to be amplified, and a whole new world of sound possibilities opens up for everyone concerned. While I'm not advocating that all drummers abandon their sticks-I am a drummer and I will always adore playing with sticks-brushes do permit a group to get to places that they wouldn't normally be able to go in an acoustic setting. The music is suddenly less bombastic, and the audience can be drawn in; closer to the sound. Freed from the imperatives of high volume, suddenly the horns and bass sound unfettered, effortless.

One can surmise that the aforementioned factors comprise some of the reasons why the co-operative modern jazz group Hush Point has made the use of brushes mandatory. Trumpeter John McNeil has been around for a while; his album The Glass Room (Steeplechase Records, 1980) is a long-time favorite of mine. In addition to a 30+ year career as a bandleader and teacher, McNeil has spent significant stretches in the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Big Band, the Gerry Mulligan Concert Band, and the Horace Silver Quintet. In Hush Point, the veteran trumpeter has teamed up with three musicians roughly half his age to make music in the old-fashioned way. McNeil and saxophonist Jeremy Udden chose to develop all-original music collaboratively in a workshop setting along with bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky and ex-Mostly Other People Do the Killing drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, rehearsing regularly and eschewing gigs until they had their game completely together. The latter was essential, because the music of Hush Point is complex, intricate, and requires attention to detail. References to other two-horn quartets lacking a chordal instrument such as Ornette Coleman's various quartets, the Gerry Mulligan / Chet Baker quartet, or perhaps Warne Marsh's quartet with Gary Foster, are all equally relevant or irrelevant as the case may be. The freedom afforded by the lack of a chordal instrument comes with a different sort of musical discipline, which the members of Hush Point obviously have in spades.

Appropriately, Hush Point's only two covers come courtesy of musical kindred spirit Jimmy Giuffre, whose mega-chill 60s recordings are a model for the judicious use of space, dynamics and timbre. The quartet really digs in to "The Train and the River," and keeps "Iranic" together quite nicely despite all of its pauses, exchanges, and tense moments of silence. On its own compositions, the quartet blazes an equally distinctive path. Udden's recordings tend toward a warm, folky lyricism. His pieces for Hush Point-"B. Remembered," "Bar Talk," "Fathers And Sons," and "New Bolero"-retain these characteristics, and add a layer or two of Brooklyn-bred complexity. "Fathers and Sons" starts out as a sweetly emotive, vaguely Ornette-ish ballad with some lovely off-and-on unisons and harmonies alongside McNeil, then shifts into up-tempo swing during Udden's solo. Both "Bar Talk" and "B. Remembered" conjure the feel of the aforementioned Marsh / Foster quartet with head spinning, boppish heads and tricky harmonies. The two horn players duet telepathically on the latter, completing each others' phrases almost magically. McNeil's "Peachful" is a crazy quilt of Monkish fragments, diversions and trap doors that Sperrazza and Kobrinsky move through at a brisk pace, unruffled. "Finely Done" is a brainy up-tempo piece that produces some of the album's most heated improvisation.

If one could possibly have a quibble about Hush Point, it's that it lacks somewhat in variety. Part of this is due to the instrumentation; every track has the same basic ingredients. The pieces tend to meld into one another despite the quartet's innate chemistry, considerable playing skills, and respectable compositional range. And perhaps that's the quartet's intention. It helps a bit that Sperrazza puts away the brushes and uses his hands on "New Bolero." Kobrinsky's "Cat Magnet" stands out by virtue of its essentially bluesy nature; it features luxuriant solos from Udden-who is truly impressive here-and McNeil who is always on-the-money. An auspicious debut from a truly happening new band.

Track Listing: Iranic; Peaceful; B. Remembered; Bar Talk; Fathers And Sons; Finely Done; New Bolero; The Train And The River; Get Out; Cat Magnet.

Personnel: John McNeil: trumpet; Jeremy Udden: alto saxophone; Aryeh Kobrinksy: bass; Vinnie Sperrazza: drums.

Title: John McNeil: Hush Point | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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