Sundial Lotus, the debut release from Salo, could easily be described as exuberant. Full of unpredictable energy, cadenced affinity and cross-genre influences, it wriggles out of one confine after another, creating small snippets of friction and long passages of intrigue. The septet's players hail from the critically acclaimed groups The Respect Sextet, Jerseyband and Little Women, all denizens of the New York jazz scene. Despite the more avant-garde leanings of those groups, Salo uses free improvisation judiciously while never settling into straight-ahead jazz for more than a few moments.
Salo is quite democratic in sharing frontline time, though guitarist Andrew Smiley and keyboardist Red Wierenga take the lead on many of its tracks. The collection opens with "The Sky is an Eye," which begins as a down-tempo ballad before giving way to an adrenalin rush that sets the stage for what is to come. "Metamorphistopheles" is something of a history of music in less than four minutes, with stride, ragtime, baroque and rock, and the tune pulls it off with a great sense of fun. The three reed playersAlex Hamlin, Ed RosenBerg and Josh Rutnertrade leads on the mid-tempo "Orbitron Revoluto" before Smiley takes a solo. Wierenga's keyboard subtly haunts the background, with ethereal, bell-like chiming.
At the midway point, "Worm Emperor" segues in from a diminished tempo, and slowly builds to a gritty tenor solo, a gradual time change and a dramatic conclusion where the reeds dominate. The most tranquil piece in the collection, "Glowing Orbes" is, nevertheless, uplifted by the reeds' swelling buildup. The title track is the most overtly free form piece on Sundial Lotus, the reeds trading leads with Smiley, tempos shifting and notes bending before coming to a quiet conclusion. Rutner's bass clarinet solo on the reflective, but slightly eccentric "Trans-Galactic Sleep Chamber" underlines the members of Salo's dexterity at layering and blending moods, as if they were interacting characters in a story.
Sundial Lotus' material is all written by bassist/producer Ben Gallina, with the exception of the title track, co-written by Paul Hindesmith. Gallina takes a restrained role in performing, but his talent at building and arranging complex musical structures is clear. Likewise, drummer Alex Wyatt demonstrates excellent rhythmic rapport with the group while maintaining a lower profile. Salo incorporates something of the unique approach of Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, and a touch of The Sun Ra Arkestra, all while keeping within the more identifiable jazz idiom. It's very modern and very good music.
The Sky is an Eye; Metamorphistopheles; Orbitron Revoluto; Worm Emperor; Glowing Orbes; Sundial Lotus; Trans-Galactic Sleep Chamber.
Alex Hamlin: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone; Ed RosenBerg: tenor saxophone; Josh Rutner: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Andrew Smiley: electric guitar; Red Wierenga: piano, keyboards; Ben Gallina: upright bass, electric bass; Alex Wyatt: drums, percussion.