While it's seemingly becoming commonplace for one musician to play 13 different parts or instruments on a studio album, it's getting pretty rare to hear an album featuring 13 musicians all playing at the same time. Eleven years into local CD reviewing and I'm pretty sure that Pursuit, guitarist Richard Nelson's third album, is the first to feature a jazz ensemble of this size and scope. It's a pleasure to listen to.
EMERGING FROM SHADOW Richard Nelson.
A throwback to any number of jazz periods over the last 50 years, the five-movement, 36-minute composition Pursuit, with all 13 pieces recorded live (you can hear the applause for solos, along with a cough or two), makes up the bulk of Nelson's new album. Tacked on at the end is a pair of tunes he put together with his Quintet, which is a subset of the larger ensemble. Associate professor of music and head of the composition concentration at the University of Maine at Augusta, Nelson here is documenting what must be considered a significant American composition.
It opens, with "Portal," about as old-school as you can imagine, Don Stratton's trumpet solo recalling the Beats and Mediterranean villas before Cassidy Holden enters with a bowed bass and Steve Grover sets the mood with light cymbal work. From there it gets much more active, building by the 4:00 mark into piercing blasts and a thunderous entrance from the collected horn section.
There is some traditional "big band" jazz work in the finish, before they move into "Innocence," which features Grover, especially, working frenetically between coordinated multi-note moves from the collected band. Listen for the way the hollow of the floor toms is contrasted with the sibilant hiss of brushes on the top of the snare.
The following "Search" and "Azure" are probably the most easily accessible. The former features Holden's bass in the open, creeping like a nefarious comic book character, before giving way to a squawking, lamenting, sometimes tortured soprano-sax break from Tim O'Dell, which is supported by Nelson's guitar, the first time we've really heard it.
Nelson here introduces with his wicka-wicka a more R&B vibe, a head-nodding bit that's pretty damn Shaft, with booming horn lines and a foot-tapping backbeat.
"Azure" is slinkier and sultry, with Frank Mauceri's tenor-sax line keeping things vampish and come-hither. Holden's bass lines here are so good you know how to punctuate with your hand as you're listening before you've even heard them. You can feel them coming. Then Bill Moseley comes in with a flute that's a palate-cleanser like lemon sorbet, airy and pretty and full of melody in contrast to the bleating horns.
Moseley carries the group into the finishing "Strive," where Nelson finally lets himself take the lead, almost elbowing his way to the front through a piece of swing, then some bop-style stuff. As the only "electric" instrument, Nelson's guitar stands out sonically like a beacon, which is, I suspect, why it's not more prominent in the backing. It doesn't have an option of just playing along and being subtle.