Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ross Hammond - Our Place On The Wheel (Ross Hammond, 2020)

This is a fascinating interlude between free jazz and deep blues that moves into a slipstream area beyond genre that is not so easily pinned down. Alto saxophonist Oliver Lake is a wily veteran, one who has been through the BAG Collective in St. Louis, joining the World Saxophone Quartet and Trio 3 in addition wonderful solo career. Mike Pride is an excellent drummer and label head who is active in the fertile New York jazz scene, and the bandleader in Ross Hammond, a very talented guitarist and composer who can play jazz blues and music from around the world with equal skill. All of these elements come into play here for music that is full of adventure, based in the blues but ranging far and wide. “Mosaic” has beautiful slide guitar playing probing the open space, stretching and setting the scene as the percussion slowly enters developing a mysterious vibe. Lake's saxophone is naked and unadorned playing short lines and phrases, as the drumming and guitar become more urgent. The collective improvisation is torrid and then breaks dynamically into squalls of sound, then long longing tones of saxophone and slide, reaching out in and emotionally resonant manner. The title track, “Our Place on the Wheel,” builds gradually, with yearning, very human tones of saxophone giving the music a deep spiritual sound framed by Pride's chimes and Hammond's subtle guitar. Lake's tone is raw and haunting, cutting to the bone and fearlessly searching for the truth in his music. The music is patient and thoughtful, with each member of the trio adding just the right amount of sound to carry this unusual and spectral music forward, with Hammond's slide sounding otherworldly in this light, followed by long cries of saxophone and crisp drumming coming like a defiant cry against the darkness. “Gratitude” is shaded with spare slide guitar, quiet and comforting after the somewhat harrowing journey that made up much of the album, aided by soft cymbals. Then things shift to a sharper focus of shimmering guitar, long tones of saxophone that rise and fall like a defiant call, while shaken percussion that adds an excellent touch to the overall sound of the performance. The music takes off and really flies with gliding slide guitar, deeply rhythmic drumming and tremendous saxophone interjections leading to a soaring finish. This album has an unusual sound that may take you a few listens to get acclimated to, but when it does the music can give you chills. Hammond writes in the notes that the album's themes were built from the sounds of blues masters like Charley Patton and Fred McDowell, but melded into a jazz format. Everything was on the album was a first take with no overdubs, demonstrating the amount of trust that the musicians had in one another. It was a very courageous album to make, but one that paid very high dividends for all concerned. Our Place on the Wheel - amazon.com

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