Pleasurable jazz can sometimes spring forth from what many enthusiasts may consider highly unlikely sources. Such is the case with Open Spaces, an earnest and charming album on which saxophonist Matt Olson ushers a quintet of barely known South Carolinians through its paces in a generally animated session that consists of ten original compositions, every one written by a member of the ensemble. Olson and guitarist Matt Dingledine authored three songs apiece, while bassist Shannon Hoover and alto Adib Young (who is one of Olson's undergrad students at Furman University in Greenville, SC) split the other four.
While the music crosses no conceptual boundaries (no fusion or free jazz here), there is ample variety within its relatively narrow confines and enough first-rate musicianship to espouse kinship to more well-known and celebrated ensembles. The album's light-hearted swingers ("Ups and Downs," "BopCycle," "Violons d'Ingres," "Insomnomania") are interspersed among thoughtful ballads ("Fade to Black," "Gravity and Levity") and tunes that embrace a warmer and more comfortable groove ("Redbud," "Open Spaces," "The Name of the Game," "Starts in 5"). In other words, even though the music is entirely brand-new, the album doesn't suffer because of it.
Nor does it suffer from a lack of creative solos, as Olson (tenor on most tracks, soprano on "Redbud" and "Gravity"), Young (alto all the way save for tenor on "Starts in 5") and Dingledine are consistently sharp and engaging. Although he doesn't solo as often, bassist Hoover (who wrote "BopCycle" and "The Name of the Game") makes the most of his chances, and teams with drummer Justin Watt to comprise an alert and adaptable rhythm section. Some albums are simply surprising, while others are surprisingly good. Place Matt Olson's Open Spaces in the last-named category.
Ups and Downs; Redbud; Fade to Black; BopCycle; Open Spaces; Violons d’Ingres; The Name of the Game;
Gravity and Levity; Starts in 5; Insomnomania.