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Guitarist Hofbauer is a working definition of what it means to be respectful of the nebulous thing that is the tradition without treating it as though it's worthy only of reverence. It shows with this group just as much as it does in his work as a member of the Blueprint Project.
The music here is shot through with quirks so skillfully played that they seem integral to the success of its realization. There is for example, nothing even remotely self-conscious about "A Drunk Monk," wherein a line is seemingly subject to infinite variations and shadings making for deeply organic music, out of which Michael Montgomery's bass solo rises as naturally as the tide.
Reference has to be made to the very sound of this group. Although the precedents for tenor sax-guitar-bass-drums quartets are many, they still manage to make something fresh out of it, and in a manner so easy that it might leave listeners wondering why so few musicians seem to manage it. Kelly Roberge's tenor sax sound is dry without being parched, and on the likes of "Jac Mac Talkin'" and "Molecular Mischief" he rolls out certain phrases as if his knowledge of the music goes back at least as far as saxophonist Flip Phillips. The ebullience that implies however is not put to use for grandstanding purposes; if such a thing as joyous consideration is a viable contention then it's on offer in this instance.
Similarly, Hofbauer himself comes up with a take on jazz guitar that sidesteps the usual with easy aplomb, his paradoxically dry yet resonant tone enlivening the theme statement on the "The Chump Killer," where his solo is a model of telling understatement which only goes to show that the most compelling story is often the one delivered by a considered voice. The work of drummer Miki Matsuki on this one is also in the same mold yet seemingly alert to every twist and turn the music takes.
It all adds up to something special, not least because this is a group which seems to realize that the tradition is no end in itself but rather something that retains its validity only through periodic but ranging renewal.
Track Listing: Hidden Haiku; Jac Mac Talkiní; A Drunk Monk; The Chump Killer; The Holly Stomp; The Shady Lambert Circus (1. Shady Lambert At Large 2. WWMMD 3. Fearless) Molecular Mischief; Fortuna Spins The Wheel; Flex Flux.
Personnel: Kelly Roberge: tenor sax; Eric Hofbauer: guitar; Michael Montgomery: bass; Miki Matsuki: drums, percussion.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.