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Robinson Morse's Sound of Mind Featuring Peter Apfelbaum at FlynnSpace

Doug Collette By

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Robinson Morse's Sound of Mind Featuring Peter Apfelbaum
Burlington, Vermont
December 16, 2017

In a focused performance comparable to that which his Green Mountain jazz peer, saxophonist/composer Brian McCarthy, offered just two weeks prior, bassist/composer Robinson Morse authoritatively led his Sound of Mind ensemble through a vigorous seventy-five minute set that wholly satisfied the near overflow audience in FlynnSpace this mid-December evening.

And the crowed didn't respond as heartily as it did merely out of loyalty to a local musician. Rather, they were inspired by the ten-piece unit's presentation of a swift string of tunes including the entirety of their album Enough Is Plenty (Recombination, 2017), parlayed in such crisp, snappy fashion, those in attendance might well have savored another two hours or more.

While it's not fair to say this performance rendered obsolete their studio recording, the unit certainly made the case for concerts of greater duration. That said, the usual means of filling a greater time allotment might rely on more frequent, not to mention conventional, intervals for soloing, perhaps something on the order of a duet featuring drummer Dan Ryan and percussionist PJ Davidian; the pair of quick breaks by the ever-so-casual former served their purpose, but additional such segments might just end up undercutting the distinction of this presentation.

Because this second of two shows featuring the Sound of Mind group focused on the bassist/bandleader's original compositions. And deservedly so, as it reaffirmed Morse's uncanny ability to compose in such a way material like "Atmosphere" captures the organic structure of an improvisation in full-motion; there was a distinct sense of spontaneity as readily-discernible within Dan Devine's carefully-parsed guitar as Parker Shper's keyboard work, an energetic air that also permeated the integral action of the five-man horn section: theirs were not mere embellishments to the core quintet.

Playing in unison, the rigorously charted melody lines of trumpet (Taylor Haskins, Brian Boyes) saxophone (Jake Whitesell, Zack Tonnissen, Bryan McNamara and special guest Peter Apfelbaum) and trombone (the Queen City stalwart James Harvey) crystallized in the air once they wafted from the stage. And when solos emerged from the changes of a particular song, as on Aleksey Novosyolov's "Lifted On High," those sounds only increased the intensity of the playing, not just in that of the individual, but in the group as a whole.

Maintaining equally muscular thrust whether on acoustic or electric basses, the bandleader himself was so humble he took only a single solo himself, appropriately enough, on "Congruence." Yet Morse's spotlight served the purpose of other such intervals throughout the night because it not only promoted the flow of musicianship from every angle on the stage, and thus ensured its impact pervaded the room.

As a result, in contrast to the balmy likes of the album's titlesong on record, this live take crackled with electricity. And even as Morse and SOM unfurled all the other seven tracks from Enough Is Plenty in swift succession (plus "Chimes," by featured guest collaborator/keyboardist Apfelbaum), that selection reaffirmed how the group know how to distinguish the immediacy of the stage from the insularity of the studio. Accordingly, at the end, the deep rumble within "Paranormal" and "Outsider," made that concluding sequence sound tailor-made for exactly the emphatic finish the crowd so clearly relished.

But make no mistake, the intimate size of this venue did not figure in that equation of cause and effect: 2018's Burlington Discover Jazz Festival would do well to feature Morse and company, inside or al fresco during the summer month of June, if only to certify the latent power at the command of the dectet, not to mention allow a more extended interval within which to play. Under those circumstances, the leader would have the time to introduce by name the personnel he at one juncture earnestly professed to be his best friends.

Such an appearance would thus contain a logic all its own and represent a logical extension of this show that wholly and completely deserved the dual standing ovations it elicited from the deeply appreciative audience. Occurring within a week of the winter solstice, this event conjured up a warmth comparable in its own way to that arising around its summer counterpart. That's no small accomplishment around this time of the year in Vermont, but wholly in line with this stylish execution of Robinson Morse's laudable ambition.


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