Label/Year: Self-produced, 2017
Lineup - Patrick Arthur: guitar; Dana Fitzsimons: drums; Chris Otts: tenor saxophone.
The Cheap Ensemble, a cohesive and quirky jazz trio based in Atlanta, is composed of drummer Dana Fitzsimons, guitarist Patrick Arthur, and tenorist Chris Otts. It was the band’s wish to counteract the troubles and fear we’re living in today with a non-aggressive music style that works as a stress reliever.
Keeping a strong melodic keenness in sight while constructing texture and structure, the band navigates quietly, breathing a soaring tranquility that is quite enjoyable on Roberto Somoza's “Ithaca”, the memorable opening tune. Otts and Arthur converse with freedom, having Fitzsimons' cymbal strokes as a unique rhythmic support. Space is wide and the repose everlasting.
Following identical guidelines and evincing a balladic quality that suits Otts’ calm probes, “Poor Butterfly” seems inspired by those gorgeous jazz standards that cradle and serenade. To counter this tendency, Otts’ “Volkslied” heats things up with an inner energy that stems from sudden mutations we don't find on other tunes. The ternary accentuation and folk-influenced melodies end up in a circular harmonic prowess so characteristic of the pop/rock tradition.
A rendition of “Pure Imagination”, written in 1971 specifically for the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, introduces itself through a guitar ostinato punctuated by saxophone observations. It advances unhurriedly until a slight twist that launches off-kilter guitar textures and emphasizes the saxophone behaviors.
Chick Corea’s “Matrix” was included to homage drummer Hoy Haynes. The tune is everything but quiet, boiling with a pressurized rock-ish steam ready to burst anytime. The powerful triangular layers become denser with the time, finding orientation in an unexpected funk-rock rhythm that goes to the end.
The session culminates with an apparently hushed rendition of Bruce Hornsby’s “Fortunate Son”, which starts with bucolic contemplation but decides to instigate some action during Otts’ improvisation. Crescent reverb-drenched guitar waves gain preponderance guided by Fitzsimons light beats.
Indeed, The Cheap Ensemble earned my respect and succeeded in pacifying my soul with their atmospheric agility and timely poise.
01 - Ithaca ► 03 - Volkslied ► 05 - Matrix