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Sal La Rocca: SHIFTED

James Fleming By

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The saxophone lines snake out of the speakers, rustling the airwaves like a breeze through firs or singing with all the lyricism of the finest vocalist. The double bass's hardwood lays a strong foundation. The electricity of the Wurlitzer piano growls atop that age-old sound, like a lightning storm rolling over treetops. Sal La Rocca's Shifted melds the gentleness of a forest with all the freedom of its animals. The sounds can roam uninhibited and wild. But they all play a part in creating the music's natural beauty. Each creature as vital as the next.

Shifted's music springs from the well of spiritual jazz. Saxophonist Jeroen van Herzeele occupies the space between Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins—between the wild and the hearth. His playing searches the outer realms of the spirit as Coleman's does. But with the full, warm tone of Rollins. On "Psalm"—not the John Coltrane tune, but an original by Van Herzeele—his sax stretches for the heavens. While below, bandleader Sal La Rocca's bass pours his lines into the rhythm's mold. He's a subtle and ingenious player, wielding his instrument with all the assured and quiet cool associated with the bass. Never dictating, but steering instead. A respected and admired captain.

At its softest, Shifted is quiet as nightfall. "Wise One" and "Bicycle" feature snowfall-pure playing from Van Herzeele that moves over the open expanse of Pascal Mohy's piano-chords. Lieven Venken's drumming never veers into indulgence or bluntness. His is an economical voice. That says all it needs to say in the click of a rim-shot or the hiss of a brush on a ride cymbal. He pushes the rolling groove of "Cache-Cash" like an engine turning cogs. And his bandmates mesh with his teeth. All working together as if they shared a nervous system.

Mohy's playing on "Syndrome" shimmers and dances a ritual around Venken's rapid hi-hat rhythm. While the sax-lines twist and wind like a dirt-road to nirvana. Closing track "Last Kiss" opens with a mercurial chord-groove on Mohy's Wurlitzer. As La Rocca bobs and weaves around the syncopation, Van Herzeele's sax sings its melody. Many instruments claim to mimic the human voice almost perfectly—the violin, slide guitar. But it's not the instrument that speaks, it is the player. And Van Herzeele can claim that he truly talks through his saxophone.

His voice, and his bandmates,' are as distinctive as any speaker's. La Rocca is an eloquent bassist. Where many a bassist sounds as if they're overcompensating for the instrument's reputation as an indulgent, pointless soloist, he is pointed, clear and purposeful. Much like the strong compositional elements of these tunes. Jazz is undoubtedly a music of spontaneity. But the music on Shifted proves that there is a balance between the wild and free and the scored. La Rocca's quartet has not only played a brilliant album, they have crafted one. Forging scores out of airwaves.

Track Listing: Shifted; Waiting; Psalm; Wise One; Bicycle; Cache-Cash; Ragga; Syndrome; Last Kiss.

Personnel: Sal La Rocca: double bass; Jeroen van Herzeele: sax; Pascal Mohy: piano, Wurlitzer; Lieven Venken: drums; Phil Abraham: trombone (6 & 7).

Title: Shifted | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Igloo Records & El Negocito Records

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