Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Flail – Never Fear

It’s always nice to have a scoop, but every once in awhile something comes over the transom that’s so good that it merits a writeup even if it’s not exactly news. The Flail’s debut cd was recorded a few years ago and slipped under our radar, but it’s good to report that the band is still together and playing regularly. These passionately intelligent jazz purists did a show last year at Small’s, which is how the album came to our attention. A quintet with piano, trumpet, tenor or soprano sax and rhythm section, they play vivid songs without words with an uncommon chemistry. A lot of jazz albums take their cue from putting players together to see what they can brew up on the spot, and more often than not the result is a showcase for the individuals rather than an ensemble effort. This, auspiciously, is the latter: every band member gets to solo, but it’s not the usual ostentatious parade of solos around the horn, ad infinitum. Everybody’s working within the songs.

Because this is an album of songs. Like Pamela Fleming or Kenny Garrett, the Flail like using big, memorable hooks as a jumpoff point. The opening track on the album, As You Like, has pianist Brian Marsella’s big, broad chords building a sturdy ladder for saxist Stephan Moutot to take off and climb. The following track, composed by trumpeter/bandleader Dan Blankinship has the piano and drums pairing off against each other as the sax and then trumpet go into exploratory mode, alternately boisterous and buoyant.

The next cut, Life Before the Rerun gets off to a flying start with a drum solo and then trumpet over a fast, loping bassline, venturing closer to bop than the rest of the album. Track four, Once, another Blankinship composition has the trumpeter building tensely and insistently to a crescendo and then passing the baton to Moutot, who ably steers the tune through high seas and brings it to comfortably to land. The gorgeously catchy Just About to Be layers coloristic piano and horns over a staccato bass pulse, building to an attractively precise Marsella solo. And then Moutot goes out exploring on soprano: it’s not the discovery that matters here, just the thrill of the chase. Bassist Reid Taylor’s Butterscotch is an idiomatic, torchy wee-hours ballad that would make a great addition to a slow-grooves mix.

Fraggle’s Car Got Toad begins with a relaxed Marsella piano solo and then picks up the pace in a split-second when Taylor comes in, building to a swinging, perhaps predictably jarring crescendo as the title would imply. After drummer Matt Zebroski’s soulful, gorgeously Middle Eastern-inflected 6/8 piano ballad We Travel, the cd closes with Blankinship’s title track, a magnificent, extended tour de force building from a haunting bass solo to where all guns are blazing, again with Middle Eastern tinges. It’s not every day that something this consistently gripping and exciting arrives in the mail. Fans of great melodic jazz: Brad Melhdau’s Art of the Trio Series, the aforementioned Pam Fleming and Ellington at his catchiest should definitely seek this out. The Flail plays the Fat Cat, 75 Christopher St. at 8:30 PM on Feb 27.

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January 15, 2008 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment