In a four-song display of highly skilled writing and musicianship, Max Gerl provides deep liftoff points for a versatile quartet to roll through thirty-three minutes of distinctly different pieces in a widely comprehensive range of jazz contexts. The songs share similar length and instrumental dexterity, but that's about it. In Gerl's thematic landscape, most uncommon ground is prime musical territory.
"Tbilisi" is a sax-based romp that swings for the fences with a big band aesthetic. Aaron Shaw delivers on tenor while bassist Gerl lays down deceptively restrained grooves to illustrate how a few tasteful tones can carry more heft than needless noodling. After driving that foundational point home he whips up some frenetic fingering with variations in tone and thickness to leave a powerful impression. A gentle solo coda adds a nice bit of whimsy to punctuate the previous power.
"It Happened to Me" features crisp tones that crackle with internal intensity and roar like ferocious fusillades from an edgy Cannonball Adderley. The song is comprised mainly of rapid fire, hard bop percussion from pianist Paul Cornish and Gerl's frequent collaborator Mike Mitchell on drums, with Shaw's sax emerging from a fine-tuned frenzy.
"Suntrip" highlights the explorative side of Gerl's compositional sensibilities. Drawing upon the title, overlapping intervals develop into a freely dawning ballad of Sun Ra Arkestra arches that flow separately into the more melodic lines of Gerl's confidently restrained chords. Mitchell emerges to make a sunrise of cascading cymbals while Shaw leads the way into a Pachinko pattern of piano keys. Probably not the most accessible cut, but the scattered segments maintain a cohesive theme.
"Counter" is a piece of straight ahead, hard driving modern jazz that verifies the band's strength and how expertly Gerl can stretch out a well-punched melody. There's an excellent, tightly timed break near the midway point that aligns distorted textures to highlight how Gerl's production was just as crucial as his playing. The bandleader lays back during much of the nine-minute ride, but hits some amazing solo tones down the stretch. The extended ending is another case in which the other instruments dominate the song. Cornish and Mitchell stir up another tornado before the sax returns for a very nice fade. The band wraps things up adding new tonal territory to a classic form, like an old school Tonight Show Orchestra on mushrooms.
With numerous top flight projects underway, including his role with Mitchell in the band Spirit Fingers, Gerl will likely continue to make plenty of dynamic music down the bass line. This record is a fine representation of his talent.
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