Opening with the soul-full call of the acoustic bass, Omer Avital's Room to Grow speaks from and to the heart with the very first note. Recorded live in early 1997, the album is the second in a series on Smalls Records documenting the bassist's growth as an instrumentalist, composer, arranger and bandleader. Like its predecessor, Asking No Permission, Room features a four-saxophone sextet, retaining the services of Greg Tardy (tenor) and Myron Walden (alto) from the original group, with additional tenor talent provided by Grant Stewart and Charles Owens, and Joe Strasser filling the drum chair. Without a chordal instrument to delineate changes, this configuration creates ample airspace for extended blowing (in- and outside of the key area) and a platform for Avital to exploit his compositional chops. His arrangements cushion the soloists with dramatic flair through the use of solis, chorales, harmonic pads, shout sections and a variety of other accompaniment textures, creating extended numbers that sound like mini-suites, retaining coherency in spite of their length (the shortest track is over sixteen minutes).
Soloists are given plenty of room to stretch out, and each has something of value to contribute: Owens plays with authoritative time and compelling tunefulness on "It's Alright with Me ; Walden embodies (Eric) Dolphy-esque postmodernism on "26-2, building from mellow to manic; Stewart gets busy (without sacrificing clarity) on the same track, locking in with Strasser for a series of spontaneous hits; and on "Kentucky Girl, Tardy develops a tenderly vibrato'd exposition into the kind of solo that one plays with rolled-up shirt sleeves. Avital's style has crystallized somewhat since this period, but the essential elements are all in evidence here, making this disc a worthy addition to his catalogue.
Kentucky Girl; It
Omer Avital: bass; Gregory Tardy: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Myron Walden: alto saxophone; Grant
Stewart, Charles Owens: tenor saxophone; Joe Strasser: drums.
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