On their third recording the trio of saxophonist Jared Sims, guitarist Eric Hofbauer, and pianist Tyson Rogers elected to add veteran bassist Cecil McBee and ubiquitous drummer-du-jour Matt Wilson. The group was formed in 1997 when the members of the trio were students at the New England Conservatory. One's impression from the liner notes is that this is their most "inside" album and they chose the added musicians for their flexibility in performing with free jazz players (McBee had worked with Pharoah Sanders and Abdullah Ibrahim) and adaptability to fit into many grooves (Wilson).
The eight compositions are all originals penned by Sims, Hofbauer and Rogers. The album is bookended by the most mainstream tunes "The Priest's Sermon" and "Dead Mouse Blues." Sims enters both on tenor sax with a muscular, metallic tone in the Michael Brecker-Bob Berg mold, while Rogers and Hofbauer come through with some tasty solo work. If the "priest" is someone named Thelonious, the tune did not strike me as an homage, despite the twists and turns of the melody. However, "Dead Mouse Blues" is an attractive and laid back composition that swings. "Abdullah" is an obvious reference to the African pianist, and Sims switches horns for a funky statement and solo and offers a good opportunity to hear the interplay between the sax and Hofbauer's guitar, followed by Roger's comping. "Molecular Mischief" is the most adventurous of the tracks. After a quiet piano intro, McBee, Wilson and Sims seem to be playing in a different phases and in jagged free jazz fashion. Wilson switches from toms to sticks and plays in counterpoint to the others. Hofbauer solos nicely.
So, who will be most attracted to this effort? The group strives to straddle the mainstream and outside playing without alienating its potential audience. It seems likely that listeners who enjoy a more bracing jazz presentation without any stratospheric displays will likely find this music to their liking.
Track Listing: The High Priest's Sermon; Until We Have Names; Abdullah; Bench Carvin'; The Old Country; Molecular Mischief; Monkey; Dead Mouse Blues
Personnel: Jared Sims (tenor and soprano saxophones), Eric Hofbauer (guitar), Tyson Rogers (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), Matt Wilson (drums)