Lucian Ban (piano) and Alex Harding (baritone saxophone) have previously recorded for CIMP as a duet (Something Holy) and as part of a quintet (Premonition), as well as on the recently released quartet disc The Calling (Jazzaway). As for The Tuba Project, the title tells the tale. The quintet centers around Bob Stewart's burping tuba bass lines. He, Harding and tenor man JD Allen make a formidable front three.
A group with this much rhythmic sense is at its finest when it finds a groove (as on the lightly Latinized "Mexican Hat ), and this small band plays big (check out the rollicking second-line motion of "Cajun Stomp ). Ban takes writing credit on seven of the eight tracks, and his innate European classicism appears to have been leavened by his partnership with the bluesy, from-the-church Harding, particularly on the majesterial "Hymn, which opens as a piano/tenor duet but soars to the rafters when the rest of the band joins in.
During this live recording at the Gilbert Recital Hall in Canton, New York, made in the usual direct and unadorned Marc Rusch fashion, the building maintains a palpable presence and the musicians call out to each other, drawing audible breaths. At over seventy minutes, the CD is long but never flagsBan's composing, the unique voicings of brass and two reeds, and Derrek Phillips' versatile drumming keep things fresh.
This quality is put to the test on the nearly sixteen-minute "Bluesness Suite, which starts with tongue slaps on sax and manages to sustain interest through solos from Ban and Stewart before Harding sets a course that the rest of the band follows. Harding's baritone is a marvel: soothing, roaring, vociferous and generally attention-getting in turn. "Spirit Take My Hand (his signature tune and sole writing credit on the recording) finds his sanctified bray bolstered by Stewart and Allen with brotherly affection.
Cajun Stomp; Hymn; Muhal
Alex Harding: baritone saxophone; J.D. Allen: tenor saxophone; Lucian Ban: piano; Derrek
Phillips: drums; Bob Stewart: tuba.
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