Individual strengths can sometimes be overlooked in a musical group. The eternal quest for that momentous sound that occurs when the right guys play the right stuff at the right time can often overshadow the importance of the unique parts within the greater structure. Renku, saxophonist Michael Attias' two-year-old trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi, just released its eponymous debut disc, whose greatest strength lies within the singular ability of each player.
Composed mostly by Attias, save for two tracks by Hebert, two collective compositions, and one Thelonious Monk tune, the album is fiercely improvisational at its core. Many of the compositions are based around Attias' sometimes quirky, sometimes relaxed, meandering alto, soprano, or baritone saxophone lines. Shifts in volume and aggression create swelling crests that the trio rides along together, specifically during "Lumbago Boogaloo, whose inconsistent time signature creates a geometric structure for the band to angle its way around.
The album mixes traditional saxophone strains with the avant-garde. Attias wanders lazily on "Hotel New #1, then creates an interesting staccato muttering to introduce the next track, "Horse Fly. "Ciao Monkey, composed by Hebert, devotes its first three minutes to moaning experimental sounds as Attias blows deeply through the baritone sax and Hebert's thick strings vibrate slowly against his bow, then all three fall into a propulsive rumble that shakes with Takeishi's blistering drums.
For all of the group's innovative charm, it doesn't quite hold on to a sustainable flow. And some ill-fitting free sequences do arise on the album, which could have been saved for a more appropriate settingthough a few brilliant ideas and skillful musicianship hold Renku
Takeishi kicks it off right from the start with the slam down beat of "Dark Net. And throughout the album he's consistently right there with a vibrant rhythm. Trained in South American and Middle Eastern traditions (he lived in both regions after studying at Boston's Berklee College of Music), the drummer encompasses a vast breadth of terrain in his playing as he combines effervescent cymbals with a pounding bass drum.
Hebert's expertise first becomes clear on track two, "The Crunch. His bass solo bridges octaves while delicate harmonics mingle with warped thumping. And on "Slow Arrows, he winds a shocking quantity of notes around a jagged solo. On the last track, the Monk tune "Work, Hebert's nimble versatility erupts and you realize that everybody's just vying to be heard. When it comes down to it, these guys are each getting their points across quite well.