This is pianist Chris Pattishall's take on Mary Lou Williams' "Zodiac Suite," an extended work that has been unjustly overlooked in jazz history. Williams originally recorded this suite in solo and trio format but Pattishall rearranges it for his quintet and adds subtle sound design touches by Rafiq Bhatia that enrich the depth and context of the music without radically changing it.
This accounts for things like the rattling percussion in the middle of "Gemini" that breaks up the quick firing horn parts, and the slight, smeary echo on the martial drumbeats and fanfare of "Leo." "Aquarius" is a gentle collage of baroque horn and piano lines underscored by repetitive drum patterns that turns into a brisk rhumba at the halfway mark. "Scorpio" has a swaying vamp with meandering horns that suddenly goes into a maelstrom of sour moaning and comes back as an easy rocking groove, while the hesitant slow opening of "Taurus" gives way to woozy blues roaring which gets swallowed up in a wind tunnel effect.
When foreign sounds are not involved, the music mostly maintains a leisurely swinging feel. Ruben Fox's saxophone and Riley Mulherkar's trumpet strut with assurance over Pattishall's piano on "Virgo." Jamison Ross' drums power the band's dramatic sweep on "Capricorn," and "Cancer" is a drifting ballad with swooning horn work. "Ares" features the quintet flying along on a hot bouncing rhythm before calming into a spot of slow graceful tenor and ending with a rumbling storm of noise.
Fox and Mulherkar are excellent throughout, and Pattishall and the rhythm section play expertly underneath. The leader follows Williams' lead on some tracks and plays without the horns. He leads a sweet trio waltz on "Pisces" and also has a couple of solo spots. "Sagittarius" is a restless but careful line with a hint of Ellingtonian beauty and a "Three Blind Mice" quote, and "Libra" is richly romantic with a lovely melody.
Chris Pattishall's arrangement of the "Zodiac Suite" retains the grace and liveliness of Mary Lou Williams' writing but gives it enough sonic color to freshen it up without too much alteration. It is a great contemporary treatment of a piece of music that deserves to be better known today.
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