Something Blue: Personal PreferenceBy
Collectively and individually, Something Blue does many things very well. There are articulate, engaging compositions penned by each member of the sextet. At the risk of snubbing other admirable tunes, two of pianist Misha Tsiganov's merit special attention: "Seely Street Song" for its splendor amid changing time signatures, and the enchanting "Waltz For Olena," which extends beyond expected, conventional length.
Arrangements that are richer and more detailed than the standard head-solos-head format keep the listener guessing what will happen next and continue to resonate on repeated hearings. Some of the devices include ensemble interludes between solos (trombonist Altin Sencalar's "Blended"), shout choruses (Tsiganov's "Yasya," featuring drummer Donald Edwards), and background figures behind the soloists (bassist Boris Kozlov's "Pa'lan'ga"). Crisp ensemble work does the arrangements justice, such as the way the horns and rhythm section dig into the head of alto and soprano saxophonist Markus Howells "The Path."
Four primary soloists, Howell, tenor saxophonist Willie Morris, Sencalar, and Taiganov, all possess compelling voices and display different aspects of their identities on various tracks. For example, Tsiganov and Howell, incendiary on the up-tempo material, reveal a different approach during their turns on Edwards's "Niecee." Each, in his manner, leaves more open space than usual and gives the impression of simultaneously moving forward and holding something back.
In terms of intensity, focus and sensitivity, Tsiganov, Koslov, and Edwards are as effective as the often-recorded, critically acclaimed Posi-Tone rhythm section comprised of Kozlov, pianist Art Hirahara, and drummer Rudy Royston. Throughout the eleven cuts, they are responsive to the music's needs and change direction at a moment's notice. In short, they are a brilliant straight-ahead unit, deftly handling the transitions from swing to Latin grooves ("Blended," "Yasya"), yet when necessary, such as during tumultuous portions of Morris's "Grit," they gleefully go further afield.
Throughout the record, it often feels like Kozlov is carrying the ensemble on his back with the strength of his walking and irregular lines. Tsiganov's efficient, rhythmically charged comping suits the soloists well. Occasionally, he does the unexpected, like abruptly leaping into a pause of Sencalar's "The Path" solo or persistently pounding out eighth notes amid Morris's "Grit" turn followed by chordal explosions that threaten to throw things into disarray. Edwards assumes a duel identity as a dependable timekeeper and commentator, offering brisk, often oft-kilter fills that add an air of unpredictability to the music.
"You May Have Already Won" is a set closer that helps to put the whole project in perspective. Written by pianist David Ake, another long-time Posi-Tone artist, it is an irresistibly catchy Latin/funk line that conjures the image of a high-spirited (and possibly inebriated) individual who drags people out onto the dance floor. Though lasting only three-and-a-half minutes, it feels like the party will never end. The track features wicked fluctuations in tempo, brief, convincing solos by everyone save Edwards, and, most of all, typifies the joy and positivity that pervades Personal Preference.
The Path; Flyover Country; Blended; Seeley Street Song; Yesya; Grit; Pa'lan'ga; Niecee; Here To Stay; Waltz For Olena; You May Have Already Won.
Markus Howell: saxophone, alto; Willie Morris: saxophone, tenor; Altin Sencalar: trombone; Misha Tsiganov: piano; Boris Kozlov: bass, acoustic; Donald Edwards: drums.
Title: Personal Preference | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records