If "Riverbed," which opens Mason Razavi's burnished sequel to Quartet Plus (First Orbit Sounds, 2014) were a doorway, it would welcome listeners like guests of honor to an intimate yet lively gathering of close friends and family. Such is the feeling of hospitality and warmth that pervades this thoroughly nourishing album. Over this and the next four tunes, all Razavi originals, the guitarist's bandmates regale us with one slick tale after another. The groovier "Blues in New Hues" highlights pianist Bennett Roth-Newell's gentle propulsions, and the balladic "Looking Forward, Looking Back" his electric piano meditations, while "Blue and Grey Waltz" and "With the Wind at My Back" unveil a superbly balanced rhythm section in bassist Dan Robbins and drummer Cody Rhodes. Throughout, Razavi speaks through his instrument with an urgency that is robust yet never imposing.
The album's latter half adds a brass/wind quintet to the quartet's nexus for a more expansive yet equally narrative palette. "When the Ink Ran Dry" is an endearing example of this aesthetic, by which Razavi heightens his art with quiet invigoration. The playfully titled (and executed) "Grvünkabop" spotlights texturally-sound reed work from Oscar Pangilinan on tenor and Alex Murzyn on baritone, "Portrait for Mingus" a shaded monologue from trombonist Kevin Bryson, and "Through the Fog" a cinematic macramé of clarinets. All of which feels like a dream when the band hits us last but not least with Duke Ellington's "Caravan." Shaped most resolutely by the laser focus of altoist Ben Torres, it also finds Razavi carving out his own place in the cosmos with the kind of brightness that only the night can reveal. That Razavi and friends manage to sound so forward-leaning as they pay homage to a classic is indicative of their unity.
Riverbed; Blues in New Hues; Looking Forward, Looking Back; Blue and Grey Waltz; With the Wind at My Back; When the
Ink Ran Dry; Grvünkabop; Portrait for Mingus; Through the Fog; Caravan.
Quartet (Tracks 1-5) —Mason Razavi: guitar; Bennett Roth-Newell: piano, keyboards; Dan Robbins: acoustic
and electric basses; Cody Rhodes: drums. Quartet Plus (Tracks 6-10) —Justin Smith: trumpet, flugehorn; Ben
Torres: alto sax, clarinet; Oscar Pangilinan: tenor and soprano saxes, clarinet; Kevin Bryson: trombone; Alex Murzyn:
baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet.