In spite of being active on the NYC scene since the mid-'70s, alto saxophonist and composer patrick brennan (he prefers his name spelled entirely in lowercase letters) has a relatively sparse discography, to which tilting curvaceous constitutes a splendid addition. It constitutes the seventh release by his S0nic 0penings band since Introducing S0UP (Deep Dish, 1981), but the first since 2007's Muhheankuntuk (Clean Feed). Bassist Hilliard Greene has been an ever-present since 2002, though trumpeter Brian Groder, drummer Michael TA Thompson and pianist Rod Williams are more recent recruits.
brennan has developed a personal take on that age-old conundrum of how to integrate improvisation and composition in free jazz by using cell-like motifs allied to a strong rhythmic impulse as the basis of his works. Each of the 14 pieces in the fifty-minute program comprises a series of overlapping figures which intersect in a myriad of absorbing ways. In the liners, brennan explains that "each lays out a contrasting polyrhythm coded in bass & treble so that at least two melodic lines run concurrently." The upshot is that the session overflows with appealing loosely voiced counterpoint, which nonetheless contains space for individual expression while remaining true to brennan's conception.
Because the same source material has been used to generate all the pieces, it engenders a satisfying sense of cohesion to the album, even though the actual connections may not be readily discernible. brennan artfully programs the tracks to avoid any hint of similarity, thus the seething boppish back and forth of "8" is followed by the spacious and romantic "9." Although predominantly quintet music, he nonetheless varies the cast on occasion. As a result "4" showcases the piano trio with Williams seizing the opportunity as he juxtaposes a rippling flow against blocky chordal passages. brennan sits out "13" as Groder assuredly takes center stage, and the final "14" features the leader's careering alto squawk alone.
While the charts are fascinating enough, the accomplished execution compounds the interest. brennan's alto combines the nuanced tonal pizzazz of early Ornette Coleman with the motivic zest of a Jimmy Lyons, while Groder's darting heraldic devices and buzzy bluster offer a fine foil for the saxophonist. They build solos that tip the hat to the compositional frameworks, sometimes in introductions like Greene's slurred pizzicato resonances at the beginning of "13" or Thompson's pots and pans coda to the initial "1," but also as more vital parts of the overall suite-like mosaic.
The blend of staggered grooves, interlocking piano and horns, and animated playing make tilting curvaceous a pleasure from start to finish.
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