Electric bassist Ross McHenry
has been a highly-regarded presence in the Australian jazz scene since the release of his 2013 debut record, Distant Oceans
(First Word Records). His recognition outside of his home country has been limited, although that may change with his 2020 release, Nothing Remains Unchanged
. Eschewing some of his larger-ensemble tendencies for a pared-down quartet concept, this album sees McHenry honing his melodic instincts and creating an infectious chemistry with some new colleagues.
On his earliest albums such as Distant Oceans
or Child of Somebody
(First Word Records, 2016), McHenry utilized bands with robust horn sections, electronic keyboards and guitar, all of which made for music that was often energizing, but at times a bit busy in execution. His trio record from 2017, The Outsiders
(First Word Records), signaled a definite departure, with drummer Myele Manzanza and pianist Matthew Sheens
offering McHenry the opportunity to provide more space in the music, thereby bringing his enticing lyrical attributes closer to the surface. As McHenry has quite the gift for identifying a catchy earworm, this is all to the good, and the new album makes it all the more evident, this time with drummer Eric Harland
and saxophonist Ben Wendel
joining with Sheens to round out the quartet.
Although it's McHenry's bass ostinato that leads off the album's first cut, "Complicated Us," Wendel's sinuous tenor carries much of the weight of the winding theme, with just the hint of an edge to toughen the melody. And he unleashes a tempestuous solo when the group goes into a blistering vamp halfway through, with Harland's boundless energy thriving off McHenry's original ostinato groove. This is a band with a very ingratiating soundit only takes one listen to latch onto expansive tunes like "Adelaide" or "Forest Dance," with memorable melodies that float lightlybut it's the moments where the group stretches out that prevent the music from becoming too saccharine. Witness the building intensity on "Adelaide" behind another scorching Wendel solo, as the group stays just short of the boiling point, or the barely-suppressed energy driving "Woods," as Harland and McHenry turn another captivating melody into a fast-paced adventure, this time with Sheens's percussive flights working in tandem with Wendel's whirling flourishes.
The band's razor-sharp accord and superb musicianship will get a lot of the attention here. But McHenry's capacious compositions are the real backbone of the recording. Wendel in particular is the ideal vehicle for McHenry's muse, with no better example than "Processional," built around a mournful theme that unhurriedly proceeds to a cathartic finish. Wendel leads the way throughout, from his patient, langorous phrases at the outset to the peaks of exultation that conclude the track. McHenry gives each piece a distinctive arc, with enough room to tell a compelling story that repays relistening.
It's abundantly clear that McHenry is tapping into deep reservoirs of feeling in making this music, and it offers the most fulfilling realization yet of his emerging vision.
Complicated Us; Adelaide; 1 East West; Forest Dance; Processional; Woods; Perspectives; This I Give to You; Highway