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Sacramento-Based Drummer Alex Jenkins Releases 'Tri-Cycle' with Levi Saelua and Alex Reiff

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'Tri-Cycle' is a thoroughly modern, fresh recording, rooted in the tradition of the great jazz classics.
—Gary Vercelli, KXJZ Jazz Radio
Tri-Cycle is Alex Jenkins’ second trio album and features two of Sacramento’s most talented Jazz musicians; Levi Saelue on tenor saxophone/clarinet and Alex Reiff on the upright bass. The new album features seven original songs and two reworks; Led Zeppelin’s “No Quartet” and Dewey Redman’s “Joie De Vivre”.

The opening track, “Scarlet Lullaby”, is an original composition by Jenkins and opens with an Afro-Cuban 12/8 feel in 7/4. With a haunting yet beautiful melody, this piece displays a trademark of Jenkins; interweaving Indian Tabla and African Djembe phrases to create intriging polyrhythms. The solos by both Saelua and Reiff are equally impressive with the emphasis being on rhythmic interplay. Together they create a sense of persistence which gives the music pulse and sonic movement.

“No Quarter”, the classic Led Zeppelin song, was arranged for the trio by Saelua. Jenkins’ drumming quotes John Bonham as well as pushes musical vocabulary into new realms. Reiff’s bass carries the melody upfront while Saelua’s Saxophone explores both rhythm and harmony using theme and variation. Jenkins creates forward momentum with his unrelenting backbeat, setting the stage for a climatic interplay between the Sax and Drums.

“I Remember Roy," a beautiful dedication to the late Roy Hargrove, is a Saelua original. This bitter-sweet ballad is supported by Jenkins’ brush playing which creates a beautiful texture for Saelua and Reiff to improvise over. All three flow in a very natural way, giving the music a certain ease. There is a nostalgic quality to it, creating gentle spaces to sink into and be comforted.

The trio’s arrangement of “Joie De Vivre” is based on the version from Dewey Redman’s album, “The Struggle Continues”. The interplay between Jenkins, Reiff and Saelu exudes pure swing. Solos by Reiff and Saelua are intense, teasing at the edges of mayhem. In Jenkins’ solo, he trades eights with the Bass and Sax, creating a dynamic use of syncopation, a nod to the great drummer, Ed Blackwell.

“Barnlit Moon," an original by Reiff, was inspired by the classic tune, “Stella by Starlight." Reiff composed the tune, literally, in a barn lit up by the moon, hence the title. It features a 5/4-time- signature that helps generate a subtle lilt. Saelua and Reiff open the piece as a duo which helps create nice tension and release. Saxophone and bass solos are seamless, in expert defiance of the odd time signature. The full-chorus solo taken by Jenkins is reminiscent of Joe Morellos’ solo on the Dave Brubeck tune,“Take Five.”

“Azul," composed by Jenkins, highlights Saelua on Clarinet. His absolute artistry is on full display. Here, every note is thoughtfully and intuitively placed which is characteristic of his playing. Jenkins utilizes an Afro-Cuban rhythm called Rumba which is played between the snare drum and toms. The melancholy sound and feel of Saelua’s Clarinet solo is a somber offering, while Reiff’s Bass playing is the glue that keeps the song’s forward momentum.

“Contrafiction,” is based on the chord changes to the classic Jazz tune, “All Of Me.” It was written by Saelue and features some fine brush work by Jenkins. The rhythmic hook-up of the Bass and Drums allow Saelua great freedom to explore both rhythm and harmony. In Reiff’s lyrical bass solo, he attacks the chord changes with conviction. Jenkins’ solo showcases his ability to create texture with his brushes all the while pushing the music forward.

“Wilderness of Mirrors,” a Jenkins original, features Saelua on Clarinet. This medium-slow waltz has a mysterious quality. It is thoughtfully crafted and has a self-reflective vibe. Reiff’s bass playing creates the framework for Jenkins and Saelua to explore a gentle and inquisitive improvisation.

Rounding out the collection, is a collaborative work involving each member of the trio. For the “Lost Art of Daydreaming,” Jenkins plays the entire piece using Timpani mallets al la Elvin Jones. The power of this composition lies in its subtleties. Reiff takes the first solo, punctuated by the legato and staccato sounds of Jenkins’ drums. The dynamics of Saelua’s swirling solo, fills the sonic space with vibrant color. His Intricate phrasing acts as a counterpoint to the melody.

Throughout Tri-Cycle the chemistry between Jenkins, Saelua and Reiff is undeniable; but it’s their ability to draw the listener in, with virtuosic fervor, which is makes this effort truly Memorable.

On Friday, September 17th the trio will host an album release party at Luna’s Café in Sacramento, CA. Ross Hammond will open the show with a solo guitar set.

Tri-Cycle is currently available on all digital platforms and CD’s will be for sale through Jenkins’ website at alexdrums.net starting September17th.

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