In the two years since Vivid: The David Braid Sextet Live, the pianist has been involved in an increasing number of projects. This year has been particularly busy, with the release of the Murley/Braid Quartet's Mnemosyne's March (Cornerstone, 2006) and Beginnings (Nimmons 'n' Music, 2006), a spontaneous series of improvisations with Canadian clarinet legend Phil Nimmons. But it's Braid's sextet that manages to pull out all the stops in terms of energy and excitement, making Zhen: David Braid Sextet Live Volume II a terrific way to finish out the year.
Recorded at the same Toronto, Canada venue as Vivid, Zhen also sports a consistent lineup. While everyone in this five-year-old group is extremely busyespecially saxophonist Mike Murley and drummer Terry Clarkethe appeal of Braid's intelligent and increasingly compelling writing clearly makes the sextet a priority.
"Fishers of Men begins the set with an in-the-gut solo from bassist Steve Wallace, an auspicious intro to Braid's brand of blues. While the piece adheres to the form, it's reharmonized enough to make it more than simply a solo vehicle. That said, everyone gets the chance to burn on this seven-song set of mostly Braid originals. Throughout, the front-line horns are propelled by a rhythm section so powerful that one can only hope for a trio record from Braid, Wallace and Clarke at some point.
The complex and evocative "Temptress, understated "Andalusia and metrically mercurial "Sai Kung reflect Braid's growing interest in things Middle Eastern and Oriental. More inherently orchestral than bassist Dave Holland's flagship quintet, Braid's group nevertheless demonstrates a similarity in his ability to write knotty tunes that only reveal their idiosyncrasies on closer inspection. Braid's writing, which is never self-conscious, continues to refine itself, feeling more natural with each outing.
If Vivid was most notable for Braid the writer, Zhen finds his strength as an improvising pianist catching up. While the majority of the set is firmly entrenched in the mainstream, there are glimpses of more open-ended free play that are also indicative of the sextet's members' growing confidence in functioning with less of a safety net.
A radically reharmonized look at John Coltrane's classic "Giant Steps is further evidence of Braid's sophistication. Despite the familiar melody, Braid's reductionist approach to the changes turns this performance from mere interpretation into virtually a new composition, also featuring one of Braid's most potent solos of the set.
Braid has accomplished much for someone still in the early stages of a career. He has been evolving so quickly that he doesn't just need to be watchedhe needs to be watched closely.
Fishers of Men; Lydian Sky; Temptress; Dance of the Zinfadels; Andalusia; Sai Kung; Giant Steps.
David Braid: piano; Gene Smith: trombone; John McLeod: flugelhorn, cornet; Mike Murley: tenor and soprano saxophones; Steve Wallace: bass; Terry Clarke: drums.
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