On The New Balance, Chicago guitarist Phil Mosberg leads his loose-knit group through a series of open-ended compositions. Despite the obvious virtuosity he displays when sailing into solo flight, the guitarist remains perfectly content to accompany the other players or join them for unison melodies. And saxophonist Jon Irabagon takes plenty of opportunities to travel "out," which tends to raise the energy level of the quartet's playing.
The tunes on this record (all by Mosberg) have a relatively simple logic and a forward-looking attitude. "As Is," for example, relies upon a short bass riff and syncopated drum rhythms. But bassist Nate Bakkum gets his chance to rise up out of the cellar on this tune, where he takes an extended solo that blends the pulse of the tune with a strong melodicism. One tune later, the group heads into lyrical territory on the nostalgic "Flow," where Mosberg accompanies paced clarinet lines with spare, gentle single-note harmonies. When Mosberg takes over the melody, Bakkum accompanies him in much the same way on the bass. The piece soon reveals itself as an Ornette Coleman-ish blurring of harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic roles. For much of the record, that's the patternand it works.
One might fault Mosberg for his occasionally repetitive compositions, which can be riff-heavy and simple in construction. But they serve a role as vehicles for exploration, and since there aren't a lot of complicated changes to bog the players down, they gets an opportunity to forge new paths together through improvisation. Somehow the union of tight and loose works on The New Balance. It's a solid record with a good-size helping of creative modern jazz and a nice variety of moods.