The baritone sax is an underutilized part of the jazz arsenal, at least as a lead, soloist instrument. Its deep sonority tends to tilt its use either toward ensemble settings or the cooler styles of soloist work, following the trajectory of Gerry Mulligan's early innovations on the instrument. With Momentum, Canadian composer and multi-instrumentalist Shirantha Beddage unfetters the baritone's capacities, both by exploring the instrument's higher registers and utilizing it in a wide variety of musical settings, while taking full advantage of its unique ability to plumb the deeper ends of the emotional spectrum.
Beddage roots much of his inspiration on in scientific principles, which may account for its clarity of structure and balanced sense of space and movement. But this grounding does not result in the type of overtly cerebral or emotively flat exercise that can sometimes mar such explorations.
For example, the opening track "Porkchop" is an ebullient, funky tune, built around a memorable riff that tumbles quickly from a grainy high register, down to a dank basement tone. It's a clever, inviting opener that also reveals the talents of Beddage's band mates, who are no less adroit. "Drag and Drop" continues the deft balance of firm structure with kinetic energy, debuting another memorable theme, this time silky smooth and supported by a rich base line by Rich Brown, the perfect bed for Beddage to take advantage of the baritone's sensual, Barry White tonalities. (Illustrating Beddage's methods, the scientific theme being explored here is "friction and thrust.")
Of the compositions that follow, "Gravity," one of the album's less memorable tunes, takes on J.S. Bach and concepts of weight; "Centrifugal Force" explores 12 tone rows over the course of its eight minutes of rising and falling spirals; "Momentum"an album high pointdelves into speed and collision, charting its crescendo course with ethereal tones, precise, inventive drumming, and beautiful piano accompaniment. It is on this piece that Beddage unlocks the baritone's full range, patiently developing the pieces themes, converting this standard structure into a merged meditation on force and space and the arc of passionate longing.
The brisk "Axis of Rotation" acts as a quiet interlude, on which Beddage once again shows great tone control; and "Angle of Incidence" is a swinging tune that Beddage explains found its origins in the angles of billiards, which comes through in the piece's clattering solos, rapid piano, and crisp interactions, all of which evoke the scene of a classic jazz bar and pool room loose, a touch dirty, and choked with character.
The album ends with yet another mood shift. A tender pastoral, "The Long Goodbye."
An astute, intriguing, and artistically balanced affair, Momentum reminds us that jazz offers many avenues that a creative mind can revitalize, explore, and make personal, even if they stay within the traditional boundaries. The result of Beddage's journey should establish him as an adept composer and soloist, and help open the window to a Canadian jazz scene worth further exploration.
Track Listing: 1.Pork Chop; 2. Drag and Drop; 3. Gravity; 4. Centrifugal Force; 5. Momentum; 6.
Axis of Rotation; 7. Angle of Incidence; 8. The Long Goodbye
Personnel: Shirantha Beddage: baritone sax, piano (8), Fender Rhodes (3,6), bass
clarinet(2,5), alto sax, clarinet, flute (2); David Restivo: piano (1,3,4,5,6,7),
Fender Rhodes (2,8); Mike Downes: bass (1,6,7,8); Rich Brown: bass(2-5); Mark
Kelso: drums (1,6,7,8); Wiliam Kennedy: drums (2-5)