This is a recording by a wonderful and talented musician by the name of Matt Olson. It's a true collaboration: gifted individuals coming together to make expressive music. I believe this kind of collaboration is the very thing that makes jazz so magical. The recording begins with the title cut and one of three of Olson's original compositions, Vortex. The first soloist is pianist Mike Kocour. Mike is an unbelievably environmental improviser whose solos consistently fit within the given musical context. Trumpeter Vern Sielert has a beautiful, fat, rich, tone, and he weaves nicely from very melodious playing to virtuosic spurts in a sensible and sensitive manner. Matt plays with an enormous sound that is always lyrical. He shares the musical space with his colleagues, always giving equal space to them. Vortex is solid. It has a wonderful line with smooth (although not always easy) changes. It's a great opener. One of Matt's major inspirations is the saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. Matt pays tribute to him by recording Bergonzi's wonderful ballad Committed. The whole performance is just beautiful. It is such a joy to hear a ballad played in the same tempo throughout. These four fine musicians "sing" throughout the take in a complete ballad performance. Speaking of singing, aspiring young drummers would be well served to listen to Dom Moio's work on this tune. His playing is a fantastic model of phrase shaping, musical expression, and singing at the drum set. Playing with Fire, another Olson original, has a complex, long form. It has a definite Latin feel made possible by Kilian and Moio. Solo space is shared over the elongated form, first by Matt on alto saxophone, then by Vern on trumpet. Matt has always been able to play over changes and outside of them with comfort. He has an uncanny ability to make the "out stuff" not sound so out. He has brought this duality to this composition, too. The tune sounds straight ahead at times and slightly off center at other times. The balance and blend throughout this performance are stunning. Antonio Carlos Jobim created a floating feeling in Zingaro by using compound rhythms and a chromatic melody over a steady pulse. The beauty of this performance comes from the fact that all of the soloists embrace the floating ambience in their respective improvisations. Dwight Kilian shows off the rich tone of his bass in his brief solo. Again, Moio sets a firm groove for everybody, with just the right amount of embellishment. His stability allows the others to be free to float and play, seemingly above the beat. This is a sweet, pretty, soothing performance. Matt's Snake Eyes is another tip of the hat to Bergonzi. Like Bergonzi's Zonian Mode, Snake Eyes mixes modes to create a hard-driving, chromatic line over a minor blues progression. The fine soloing by Matt and Vern is strengthened by Dom's sensitive, reactionary style on the drums. He seems to have radar; he just kicks and fills at exactly the right moment. In Mike's solo, it sounds as though two different musicians are playing: a soloist (right hand) and a supreme comper (left hand) as well. And it is so amazing these days to hear bassists like Dwight solo like horn players. He has such incredible technique and command of his instrument. Dom gets his space trading choruses with the other soloists Billy Strayhorn's Chelsea Bridge is offered in a straightforward fashion. Some tunes simply don't need any help! In the opening melody, listen to and appreciate the interaction among the members of the quartet. Matt's solo is just so very musical! He's quiet at times, and loud, high, and passionate at other times. It is a very expressive solo. Mike's solo has more of a duet feel with Dwight's bass gestures. Wayne Shorter's This is for Albert is a lesser-played Shorter tune. Matt, Vern, and Mike all have solo space. Vern is particularly lyrical in his solo. He seems to be in complete control, with a free flowing line that just sings. There's a quiet, mellow interlude, which Matt effectively voiced for two horns (the original Art Blakey recording used three horns), preceding the out chorus. This is one very cool performance. The CD ends with one of Matt's favorite tunes, Stella by Starlight. The playing here is quite special. The beginning of Matt's solo reflects who he is: a sharer. His conception is more about the collective musical moment than it is about individual playing. Both Matt and Mike are definitely compositional in their solos. The interplay on the way out is stunning! It takes a brave and secure musician to close with a quiet ending. Bravo! Musicians like Matt and his colleagues on this CD are rare indeed. The motivation for these performers is to interpret, to express, and to communicate - both to each other and to the listener - to make music! There is no need for these players to show off; they are too secure for that. Besides, they are able to use their technical prowess as a means for heartfelt expression. In my humble opinion, they are artists. Don Owens Professor Emeritus, Northwestern University.
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