Not one to avoid concepts and ambitious outings, Andrew Rathbun's to-date masterpiece, The Atwood Suites (Origin Records, 2018), explored the poetry of his countrywoman, writer Margaret Atwood. In 2023, he tackles time.
Time is a funny thing. Its perceived speed is malleable. It tends toward an increasing velocity as one moves into middle age and beyond. It can crawl at a snail's pace (during a root canal treatment, for example) and it can race ahead with wild abandonthat raucous party under the stars around the swimming pool when the good cheer is flowing on a tidal bore of beer and wine. The Canadian saxophonist's 2023 release, The Speed of Time, an all-Rathbun batch of originals, uses the standard jazz quarteta saxophone and a rhythm sectionto examine the slippery concept.
First, familiarity with the backstory and the thoughts that inspired the music are not necessary. This is inspired by modern jazz in a quartet setting by four seasoned journeymenGary Versace on piano, John Hébert on bass and Tom Rainey in the drummer's chairlike Dexter Gordon or Sonny Rollins used to make. Or, to bring things into the nowlike saxophonists George Garzone or Virginia Mayhew make. Rathbun's tone is burnished, ringing and resonant. His articulation brings up unexpected phrasings. The title tune, that opens the disc, rides in on Hebert's implacable bass lines. Time is moving ahead at a brisk pace that pauses for Versace's sweet and lovely piano declaration, before a shift into a torrid horn/bass/drums segment. Versace sneaks back in with some spare chording. Momentum gathers.
On the other hand, "Could It Be" moves ahead at the pace of the flow of molasses in a Toronto winter. It is dark, the atmosphere foreboding. Rathbun's tenor sax is anguished. "Wandering?" finds Rathbun on his soprano sax, searching, time perhaps suspended, and "Tooth and Nail" sounds like a band of brothers scuffling down the alleyway on Rainy's ramshackle drums, throwing elbows and jockeying for position forwhat? Who knows. Time bumping and stumbling ahead, Rathbun sounding like the voice of reason in the melee.
An excellent album that can sit nicely on the shelf beside some of the great ones by Rollins and Gordon.
Speed Of Time; Could It Be?: Widen The Doorway; Wandering?; Fast 5th; Velocity Unknown;
Still A Thing; Tooth and Nail.
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