One can certainly appreciate the effort made by the members of Tumble to carve out a niche on Wave in the expanding and ever-changing world of jazz music. That said, however, there is a bit of disappointment. It's not that the group can be faulted for poor musicianship, but the readings in general are uninspired and uneven and the arrangements problematic.
Tumble is comprised of Bill Douglass on bass, Robert Heirendt on mbira (an African thumb piano), Sean Kerrigan on electric guitar, and Randy McKean, on tenor sax, clarinet and bass clarinet. Three of the members, Heirendt, Kerrigan, and McKean write numbers for the album and there are covers of Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso" and Wayne Shorter's "Blue Nile."
The album begins with the erstwhile and gentle tune "The Nuthatch." McKean's clarinet is the focus here, and his effort is full-throated and covers the instrument's range from bottom to top. With a slight nod to Django Reinhardt, Kerrigan mixes in some gypsy blues over Douglass' slow walk and Heirendt's repeating motif. The next piece, "Frisco," is clearly a nod to Oregon, but the theme is too repetitive, despite McKean's use of both the bass clarinet and tenor sax. "Unsuitable" gets back on trackwith the mbira out front and McKean's hallucinogenic sax lines floating above.
Monk's "Misterioso" is given a perfunctory performance. It lacks all the droll humor of Monk's various interpretations, though Kerrigan and Douglass brighten the material in spots. McKean's piece "Much Happy" has a rehearsal quality and sounds almost like a student's practice material. The remaining three pieces return to form. "Otter In the Water" is probably the best tune on the album. Kerrigan mimics Ralph Towner at the beginning, and McKean's relaxed contributions glide along. "Sub Drift" has a dance vibe and Douglass and McKean contribute soulful expressions. The dance vibe continues on "Blue Nile," as McKean uses his bass clarinet to generate a sexy feel in the lower registers.
Overall, the work on Waves may suffer from the constant and repetitive nature of the mbira. It may have worked better if there was a drummer involved. And while Kerrigan's bluesy electric guitar deserves applause, one wonders if a set of tunes influenced by Oregon might have been better off exploring acoustic sounds and tones. It will be interesting to see where Tumble goes next.
Tracklist: The Nuthatch; Frisco; Unsuitable; Misterioso; Much Happy; Otter in the Water; Sub Drift; Black Nile.
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