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Something Blue: Maximum Enjoyment

Paul Rauch By

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Maximum Enjoyment is a curated effort by Posi-Tone producer Marc Free to feature the label's artists individually and collectively. The recording features a talented front-line of alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino, trombonist Nick Finzer, and tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon, backed by an uber rhythm section featuring pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Rudy Royston.

The compositions chosen for the project are reminiscent of modern jazz in the 1960s, most notably from the Blue Note catalog, something that has been in the hip pocket of Free and engineer Nick O'Toole from the inception of Posi-Tone. The results are mostly positive, and provide a sampler of what the artists and the label have to offer. The project is akin to a previous label release New Faces: Straight Forward (Posi-Tone, 2018) that features saxophonist Roxy Coss, trumpeter Josh Lawrence, and vibraphonist Behn Gillece.

Free looked to Gillece to provide two compositions, the opening salvo "Slick," and the energetic "Overcooked." Both pieces slide towards an unrelenting foray into modern swing interpretation, enabling the push and drive of Royston's undertow of polyrhythmic mastery. Combined with the veteran contributions of Hirahara and Kozlov, the rhythm section provides all the incentive a listener needs to hang with this record from start to finish. The soloists are the fortunate recipients, with Tarantino storming out of the gate on "Overcooked" with her rapidly developing rhythmic articulation escaping the post Charlie Parker/Cannonball Adderley legacy. While expressing an original, modern approach, her playing abounds in a free flowing abridgement to modern swing rhythms.

Hirahara's "Vast" begins with a lovely bass prelude by Koslov. The melody unfolds between the three horn players, with Finzer defining the melody with his perfect tone, and masterful facility. Listeners can discover this master of the current trombone universe in more depth on his most recent release No Arrival (Posi-Tone, 2018). It is Hirahara's melodic sense both as a composer and pianist that creates a feeling of blissful contentment and beauty within the harmonic boundaries of this tune. It sings as the most memorable piece of the album.

"Cluster Funk" is just plain fun, with an angular, funky melody that leads to a physical solo from Hirahara. Royston's layered approach to a straight-ahead rhythmic compositional base is on display once again, providing what amounts to the most satisfying element this project has to offer-his sublime talents. Royston's performance resume includes such diverse leaders as JD Allen, Bill Frisell, and Dave Douglas. His playing on Maximum Enjoyment points us in his direction, inspiring the listener to seek more.

Finzer's "Why Aren't You Excited" is a canvas painted in variant shades of blue. While the entire sextet splashes shades of blue and black, it is Finzer himself who solos in sublime fashion with a firm connection to the blues tradition. His superior facility and tonality sets him apart from even the most expressive notables of modern trombone playing. His playing is bold without being brash, with a melodic sense that is clearly evident in his writing as well.

Posi-Tone has received a variety of accolades over the past few years, in the process acquiring the services of a number of notables on the New York scene. Maximum Enjoyment provides a sampler of some of the prodigious talents on the label. It would be a wasted effort however, if those listening do not use it as a guidebook to other recordings both on and apart from the Posi-Tone realm. It is a positive that Free continues to provide a platform for these artists to perform and pursue their inspired, collective creative visions. It is essential however, that listeners partake in less produced, self-curated works provided by these artisans of modern jazz that are pushing the music forward, all the while maintaining an intimate connection to tradition, and ultimately the blues.

Track Listing: Slick; Coppertone; Stunts and Twists; Aoi Blue; Overcooked; Vast; Breeze; Cluster Funk; Shift; Why Aren't You Excited; New Directions.

Personnel: Alexa Tarantino: alto sax; Nick Finzer: trombone; Sam Dillon: tenor sax; Art Hirahara: piano; Boris Koslov: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

Title: Maximum Enjoyment | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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