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Liberating Vines is both the name of expatriate Canadian (now Paris-based) drummer Karl Jannuska's new CD and of his Montréal group with altoist Brodie West, tenorist Kelly Jefferson, bassist Fraser Hollins, and pianist John Sadowy. The album's compositions and arrangements are all by Jannuska, and the detailed, rigorous post bop performed here makes Liberating Vines the absolute opposite of a blowing session: while the players solo, the solos are nestled inside intricate harmonized heads and ensembles that leave nothing to chance.
A perfectly good example of this is "Edible Sculptures," with its snaky, ascending theme, in which the two horn parts entwinevines indeedwhile the leader's shuffling, shifting drumming urges and nudges the music onward. Almost three minutes pass before West begins soloing, and he is immediately relieved by Jefferson, who in turn plays only a few nervous phrases before passing control back to West. Back and forth they go, trading notes, until the group locks into a repetitive phrase that finally fades before that inevitable ascending theme recurs to end the song. It's terrific.
The opening track, "Late Morning," is even better; its tight, contrapuntal, almost baroque head recalls the less "free" parts of Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds , with a touch of the sound of Keith Jarrett's Scandinavian quartet, thanks to Sadowy's fine piano playing. Sadowy plays on half the album's songs and his solo here shows a great use of space. Down below, there is always the leader with his percolating, shimmering, stop-on-a-dime attack, and it's here underneath, in the drums and bass, where the subtle movement and change that make this jazz music constantly occur.
Really, there are two groups on this CD, with and without Sadowy, and it is the core band without him that shines on the album's title track with its hypnotic, descending bass line and its exotic, harmonized melody that so profits from the sensuous contrast between the two horns' registers. Guest soprano saxophonist Christine Jensen is added to the mix on the fascinating "Little Player," which features a "here I am" roll call of tenor, alto, and soprano saxophones, their notes weaving together and apart before each makes a very individual solo statement followed by the inevitable raucous polyphony of simultaneous soloing. Strange fauna indeed in this forest. On the "with Sadowy" side, there's the hazy, melancholic ballad "Diamond in the Rough," where the pianist excels both on his long, romantic intro and in his smart, sparse comping to Hollins' bass solo.
The album has its weaker moments, such as the techno-organ diversion of "DVX-80X," which, despite its cagy, processed piano solo, just seems pointless. The Ornette Coleman-styled melody of "Nickel Days," too, just doesn't work without Ornette's unique touch. Fortunately, most of the CD is as successful as it is ambitious; it's a tremendous debut as a leader for Jannuska. A somewhat related question: Is the Montréal jazz scene as good as the Effendi label's recent output would suggest?
Track Listing: 1. Late Morning 2. Liberating Vines 3. Aka 4. Leaving Yverdon 5. Meshugah 6. DVX-80X 7. Little Player 8. Nickel Days 9. Grover's Corners Eternal 10. Diamond in the Rough 11. Edible Sculptures 12. Less
Personnel: Karl Jannuska, drums and percussion; Kelly Jefferson, tenor saxophone; Brodie West, alto saxophone; Fraser Hollins, acoustic bass; John Sadowy, piano and organ (#1,4,5,6,10,12); Christine Jensen, soprano saxophone (#3,7)