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Tom Abbs is a multi-instrumentalist who, besides violin and didgeridoo, plays bass, tuba and cello on this CD. He has enlivened the free jazz scene in New York, not only through his collaborations with Cooper-Moore and Steve Swell among others, but with his music as well. He thinks with a vivid imagination and as such injects his compositions with melody, free falling notes, jazz harmony and a picturesque development. The last may well spring from his role as film-maker.
The tunes here are short, but they bring home the vantage point Abbs seeks. The written note is blasted away, tempest dissolves into calm, musicians find harmony in seamless flow just as they find logic in tidal waves of cross-currents. In sum, where the band will go is unpredictable.
Volatility and intensity crackle into "Torn" after the melody has been essayed by Abbs on cello. Violinist Jean Cook rips that apart with notes that are askance as the thunder of Chad Taylor's drums and the bass rumble underneath. The switch has been seamless, an envelope of ideas invented on the go.
Abbs plucks a melody on the bass, upping the pulse like nothing ever mattered on "Tidal." It doesn't, because the band finds its groove in the fermenting waters it stirs. And so it goes from the straight-ahead approach of tenor saxophonist Brian Settles on "Cross"; Taylor adding splashes of rhythm on cymbals and snare drum, and Abbs bringing in a chamber jazz feel with arco to the bop drive of "Tightrope." Settles carves the tune open, his focus well-defined even as he opens up several stimulating ideas, the rhythm section riding along to mark the ability of the band to hew a direct course with depth.
Abbs is impressive in this illuminating approach to his craft.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.