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Travis Sullivan: New Directions

Bruce Lindsay By

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Travis Sullivan's New Directions, his Posi-Tone debut, is a rewarding trip through a mix of strong, self-penned, tunes and an unusual combination of covers. The saxophonist leads his quartet with style, emphasizing musicality and emotional engagement over displays of technique, and creating a sparkly collection that emphatically establishes his talents as a composer as well as a saxophonist.

The altoist's compositions are firmly within the modern jazz tradition, but there's a variety in pace, rhythm and mood that keeps things interesting. The hard-bop "Tuneology" and silky-smooth "Georgie" are immediately engaging, with sprightly and positive melodies that enable all four musicians to shine. "Jamia's Dance" and "Autumn in NH" represent Sullivan's more reflective side, with some beautifully flowing lines from Sullivan and pianist Mike Eckroth. "New Directions" is an upbeat "bop-meets-funk" swinger that benefits greatly from Brian Fishler's bouncy, skipping, drums and a strong and slinky beat from Eckroth and bassist Marco Panascia.

Two classic tunes adorn New Directions. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's standard, "Spring Is Here," is lovely, with Sullivan firmly accenting its mournfully lush melody. Tears For Fears' 1980s pop hit, "Everybody Wants To Rule The World," gives Sullivan much less to work with, as it has none of Rodgers and Hart's timeless beauty—though, to their credit, Sullivan and Eckroth both carve bright and swinging solos out of the melody.

New Directions is Sullivan's first small band album since 1999's As We Speak (Self Produced), which featured guitarist Rez Abbasi. Sullivan's main ensemble in the intervening decade—the long-established, 18-piece Björkestra project, devoted to the Icelandic vocalist's compositions—might suggest a more eccentric approach than that demonstrated on New Directions. Unconstrained by the structure of Björk's songs, however, Sullivan takes a more straight-ahead approach to this quartet project. The result may well be a more accurate reflection of Sullivan's musical philosophy, and certainly makes clear that he's a player and composer to keep an eye on.

Track Listing: Jamia's Dance; Autumn In N.H.; Tuneology; Hidden Agenda; Spring Is Here; Georgie; Everybody Wants To Rule The World; Leap Of Faith; Magic Monday; New Directions.

Personnel: Travis Sullivan: alto saxophone; Mike Eckroth: piano; Marco Panascia: bass; Brian Fishler: drums.

Title: New Directions | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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