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Hark gentle reader, and gather around for a lesson in history. The team of Mark Leonard, Nick Skrowaczewski and Stanley Jason Zappa studied under Bill Dixon, played in his band, and recorded on his label after Dixon heard the first five tracks from what would become Visions. Knowing that these five songs were not enough for a record, they went into the studio and added seven more. That was a good move, because it challenged their ability to play authoritatively in different contexts.
The call of the avant-garde and free expression, with the avowed spirit of John Coltrane upon them, is but one side. The other is a calmer plain, a more linear progression and an emphasis on melody. One cannot argue with the split: the music testifies! Zappa is a hard blowing tenor man, his voice in command and in control of the elements. Oh yes, he does honk and gives vent to the squeal, but he is loquacious in the writing of his dictionary: bold, brusque and vibrant. Leonard is not only responsive to the call of Zappa, he is constantly churning ideas, pithy injects that can invoke and create a shift in tide. Skrowaczewski attunes dynamics in his accents on the cymbals, the prancing patterns on the snares and in the swish and jingle of percussion.
From the earlier work, “Atomic Swerve” stands out for the interjections of sound from the clarinet where melody and atonal lines straighten out seamlessly before the discourse is continued through “Increase and Ornament.” The heated manifestation of “Along the Breakwater” harkens back to the music that came out of their first foray into the studio. The rest of the tracks clasp the warmth that emanates from the tuneful "The Geometry of Change” to the waltzy, melancholic “Ye Olde Mitre.” At the end of it all this band makes a pressing claim for attention.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.