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Saxophonist Jeremy Udden comes armed with heavyweight credentials. He's an alumnus of Russ Gershon's phenomenal Either/Orchestrahis playing among the high points of that ensemble's epochal Ethiopiques 20: Live in Addis (Buda Musique, 2005), a record replete with high points.
On this, his second album as a leader, Udden heads far from the Ethiopian sounds of the Gershon disc. He heads back home, in fact: Plainville is named for Udden's Massachusetts hometown.
The first couple of tracks sound like Phil Woods wandering into an impromptu hootenanny. The 3/4 rhythm of "Red Coat Lane," Pete Rende's swelling pump organ, girded by Brandon Seabrook's banjoall evoke a small-town upbringing not so much in the latter part of the twentieth century as in the latter part of the nineteenth century. No matter, the prevailing motif is one of free-floating nostalgia rather than of references to a specific past, a record about wistful longing itself more than memory. Later tracks (e.g. "Curbs"), for example, hearken back to garage rock. (Or is it an homage to Jim Black?)
Plainville appropriates two elements of Todd Sickafoose's excellent Tiny Resistors (Cryptogramophone, 2008): a solidarity-laden, informal group sound, like a living-room session (Plainville might have been recorded in the kitchen); and second, long, keening melodic lines as familiar with mid-'60s folk rock as with mid-'60s Miles Davis (the first few notes of "Reunion" could be quoting the Beatles' "In My Life"). If anything, Udden writes even prettier songs than Sickafoose ("Christmas Song," "Modest").
The instrumentarium is bizarre, and prevents the tunes from becoming cloying at their sweeter moments. Especially noteworthy is Rende's panoply of slightly beaten-up sounding keyboards. The playing of Rende and banjoist/guitarist Seabrook seems to owe little immediately discernible debts to mainstream jazz improvisers, in keeping with the hybrid nature of this record's musical philosophy, but they solo imaginatively. Udden's is the most distinctively jazz-oriented voice on Plainvillehe really does sound like Phil Woods sometimes.
The charming irony of this record is that Udden, looking backward, has created something that sounds fresh and novel.
Track Listing: Plainville; Red Coat Lane; Curbs; Christmas Song; 695; Modest; Big Lick; The Reunion; Empty Lots.
Personnel: Jeremy Udden: saxophones; Brandon Seabrook: banjo, guitars; Pete Rende: pump organ, Fender Rhodes, pedal steel, Prophet; Eivind Opsvik: bass; R.J. Miller: drums; Nathan Blehar: nylon-string acoustic guitar (1, 4); Mike Baggetta: electric guitar (9); Justin Keller: tenor sax (2).
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.