FARALLON / GRINDER: New and Happy. Potential. 5 Steps. Inaction. Belly Up. Deciduous. Farallon. Staged. MONK: Reflections / Nick Grinder, tb; Ethan Helm, a-sax; Juanma Trujillo, gtr; Walter Stinson, bs; Matt Honor, dm / Outside In Music 2141845X
This album, scheduled for release on February 22, is trombonist Nick Fallon’s second. It is also his tribute to the Farallon Islands, which are sanctuaries to sea birds and mammals 30 miles offshore of California where no humans other than marine biologists may go.
From the very opening of New and Happy, we seem plunged into the world of contrapuntal cool jazz from the late 1950s. Echoes of Jimmy Knepper, Tony Scott and their colleagues abound in the catchy rhythm and lightweight playing of guitar, bass and drums, and Grinder himself plays with a mellow, burry tone, superb lip and slide control and excellent musical construction in his solos. Ethan Helm is no slouch on alto sax, either; both play busy but cogent solo spots that make the music sparkle. Drummer Matt Honor is the type of percussionist you seldom hear nowadays, terse and tasteful in his own solo with deft stick work.
Potential is an ultra-slow piece that, in the beginning, almost sounds classical in design, with Grinder and Helm playing off one another a cappella. Even when the drums and guitar enter, they play minimal figures behind the horns. Yet it is a fascinating piece that finally assumes a regular pulse at about 2:23. The music almost “falls together” as a piece in a way that I found fascinating, and oddly enough it is Helm who dominates the proceedings, although Walter Stinson also takes a sparse bass solo as well (with Helm playing soft whole notes in the background). Grinder returns to play simple figures in tandem with Helm towards the end.
We return to ‘50s-style classic cool with 5 Steps. Here, the simple-sounding but slyly complex melody leads into a fine Grinder solo while Helm and guitarist Juanma Trujillo play buzzing figures behind him. Trujillo’s distorted guitar takes a slow, surreal solo in the middle. Inaction opens with a solo, cup-muted trombone solo, then moves into a slow, stately theme and later a surprisingly funky solo by the leader. Alas, Trujillo plays flat in his solo and has little or no originality in his improvisation.
Belly Up has a quirky rhythm played at a medium tempo, and an equally unusual melodic line. Grinder’s solo is outstanding, following both the odd rhythm and underlying harmonies to create an entirely new structure. After the guitar solo, trombone and alto play in unison, probably a written passage that also develops the theme. In Deciduous, we return to a ‘50s progressive jazz structure, lightly swinging yet with displaced beats that keeps the listener a bit disoriented. Helm’s alto solo is again outstanding, and here the rhythm section fractures the beat so much that it almost sounds like free jazz of the early 1960s. Once again, however, we have to put up with Trujillo’s distorted, out-of-tune guitar playing. Trujillo’s pitch is also a bit suspect, though not as flat, in the long, uninteresting opening solo of the title tune, which is at long last saved by a fine bass solo and the leader’s muted trombone.
Staged is a medium-tempo piece with a nice, quasi-Latin beat to it. Grinder has the mute back in his horn, playing the very nice opening melody which contains some interesting chord changes before moving into his solo, which gains in volume and intensity as it progresses. There’s also a nifty drum solo in this one. We close with one of Thelonious Monk’s rare ballads, Reflections, played beautifully by Grinder on open horn with the rhythm section behaving itself behind him. Trujillo plays a pretty decent solo on this one.
Overall, then, a very fine album with a few bad patches from our intrepid guitarist. But for that, this would be a five-star review.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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