For some reason, I never associated Andrew Rathbun with the Canadian scene, especially as embodied in the ever-expanding circle of David Braid and Mike Murley. There is something in his playing and compositions, just like Kenny Wheeler, that I cannot placeand which renders him distinct from the others.
In any case, Shadow Forms is a wonderful album and, in typical Rathbun fashion, it could not be more different from his previous release, Renderings: The Art Of The Duo. In that effort with George Colligan, the duo explored its classical side in music of such extreme delicacy it practically floated. This release has more blowing, especially on the tunes shared with George Garzone, a famed teacher and presence in Boston (see The Fringe: Live at Zeitgeist for a powerhouse example of his freedom and inventiveness).
Besides Garzone, who joins in on five tracks to make a quartet, Rathbun's main trio partners are bassist Scott Lee, who also contributed five compositions, and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. Both Lee and Hirshfield are in-demand sidemen who have played on many recordings. However, it is their long association with alto/soprano saxophonist Loren Stillman (How Sweet It Is, Gin Bon and It Could Be Anything) that piqued my interest, especially when there were so many places in Shadow Forms in which echoes of Stillman's records could be heard.
Rathbun relates in the notes that the album's title is meant to denote the compositional methodology in relation to form, calling it "open moments within a codified form." This allows the players great freedom, but with a concomitant requirement of close attention and concentration to make music which needs close listening. Surely, Garzone is at ease playing with loosely coupled but attentive groups, and both Lee and Hirshfield breathe this attitude as a team. Stillman works this way, and Lee contributions to his recordings fit right in.
Rathbun's clarinet and soprano sax sounds are both extremely pure, as exemplified by "Drewsie" and "Herbie At Sixty" respectively, which, perhaps coincidentally, are Lee compositions, as is "To The Matt," the other soprano tune. The tenor sound is wide-ranging, swinging from the driving counterpunching of Joe Lovano's "Street Talk," taken at a fast clip, to the tenderness and pathos of "This Fall 9/11." Nevertheless, underlying all of Rathbun's playing and compositions is a sensitivity and intelligence that is audible even at times of seeming abandon.
Rathbun's next album will most likely not sound anything like Shadow Forms, which makes his journey all the more interesting to follow. The restless intelligence that informs this fine record only whets the appetite for the next.
Street Talk:To the Matt; Scatter Scott; Drewsie; Pass It In; Herbie at Sixty; Ripple; This Fall
9/11; Elmo; Look Again; Fifteen Minute Drill; Onmo.
Andrew Rathbun: tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet, keyboards; George
Garzone: tenor saxophone; Scott Lee: bass; Jeff Hirshfield: drums.
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