Pi's roster boasts a several heavyweight avant-guarde jazz talents: Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith and his Golden Quartet, Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Henry Threadgill. But they also offer the young newcomers, including pianist Vijay Iyer and, with the release of Tactiles, guitarist Liberty Ellman.
Tactiles is a quartet outing – guitar/sax/bass/drums – that falls, surprisingly, on the mainstream side of jazz, given Pi's veteran artists list and Ellman's relative youth, plus his stint in Henry Threadgill's group Zooid ( Up Popped Two Lips, Pi Recordings, 2002).
But while it might be mainstream, the sound does lean decidedly in the direction of the edge. Ellman's playing is sharp and incisive, with lots of short, tart declarations crouching down in the lower register, biting off notes with minimal use of sustain. His style reminds me a bit of Larry Coryell's work on Chico Hamilton's The Dealer (Impulse, 1968), mixed with some of The Band's Robbie Robertson.
Saxophonist Mark Shim has a sensibility and approach on his instrument similar to Ellman's: urgency manifested by short, tight lines, like the leader's. As a unit, the group has that same edgy forward drive – without quite the level of intensity – that you hear on Vijay Iyer's Fieldwork (Pi Recordings, 2002).
A smoother flow is achieved when alto saxophonist Greg Osby sits in on three numbers. Osby's approach is more fluid than Shim's, and Ellman plays in kind, opening up the sustain a bit to meld with different flow. I find the sound with Shim in the mix preferable, grittier and more in sync with Ellman's approach, but it's a matter of small degree. The inclusion of Osby adds another flavor that sits well.
A start-to-finish strong and interesting set of original tunes by a talented young guitarist.
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