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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 9, No. 8

Omnitone Records:

by Paul Serralheiro / May 10, 2004

Version française...

John McNeil: This Way Out
Omnitone 15204

Frank Kimbrough Trio: Quickening
Omnitone 15203

Omnitone Records' founder and president, Frank Tafuri, has been quoted as saying that he aims to present music that is both "adventurous and listenable," a combination that, given an ideal marriage of personnel, material and recording savvy, could yield rewarding results: the listener has his hearing refreshed, musicians get to be creative and the recording executives get to balance their books.

Two recent releases illustrate the essence of the label's strengths. One features the pleasantly quirky playing and composition of American trumpeter John McNeil in a Spanish date aptly titled This Way Out, the other the subtle expressionism of American pianist and composer Frank Kimbrough in Quickening.

John McNeil is a contemporary trumpeter with a fairly high profile, due to stints with big-name artists like Horace Silver and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and due to his The Art of Jazz Trumpet, a very usable and enlightening method for aspiring jazz trumpet stylists. And McNeil is nothing if he is not a stylist: his smears, slurs, attacks and turns of phrase are unmistakably his. In This Way Out's encounter in Barcelona with musicians from that scene--Gorka Benitez on tenor saxophone and Giulia Valle on bass--along with fellow American and half-time Spanish resident Joe Smith on drums and percussion, McNeil has found happy conditions for his signature sonic spreads. The tunes are rhythmically unpredictable, with freewheeling forays into odd metres, bolero and tango rhythms, and other inventiveness that "swing" without swing, per se. The tunes have character, like the runaway "Mi Tio," the cubistic "Picasso View," the mesmerizing ostinato-underpinned "Know Your Limits," the frenzied "Skeeter," and the very weird but very listenable (remember the label's motto) "Dewey Defeats Truman."

As for Quickening, this is Kimbrough's fourth Omnitone release, and the pianist-composer has the distinction of having been the first artist released on the label (a duet with vibraphonist Joe Locke). One of the founders of the Jazz Composers Collective, Kimbrough frequently plays in varied settings, from duo to big band. But the pianist's preferred musical partnership is the trio, because, as he says in the liner notes, "the music tends to develop organically and to be more interactive." Captured in a live performance with bassist Ben Allison and drummer Jeff Ballard, the webs woven by the minimalist formation are definitely interactive and happening.

The title tune that opens the CD has the conciseness and humour of a Monk tune, and the rest of the eight tunes oscillate between lulling balladry and earthy, bluesy feels. The most peaceful moments of the album come in "For Duke," which recalls the lyricism of Bill Evans as much as that of Ellington. Before the album closes with "Ancestor," an eight-minute scorcher with driving bass and drum figures and an out-of-tempo chordal piano theme, the listener gets treated to lots of spry, centred playing. It is the kind of music that one is deeply affected by, almost without being consciously aware of what's happening. The word for that would be "transcendence," something that is arrived at via an approach that is meditative, centering and relaxing, yet substantial.


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