Label: Birdwatcher Records, 2019
Personnel - Ochion Jewell: tenor saxophone, kalimba; Steph Richards: trumpet, flugelhorn; Amino Belyamani: piano, Fender Rhodes; Sam Minaie: double bass; Andrew Munsey: drums.
Besides being an adherent of modern drumming and a skilled producer, Andrew Munsey emerges here as an interesting composer. The 10 cuts of his debut album, High Tide, denote both remarkable individuality and strong personality. To undertake this effort, Munsey surrounds himself with assertive peers who didn’t really have to test his mettle since he was in command all the time. Pairing up with bassist Sam Minaie and pianist Amino Belyamani, the drummer establishes a resilient, multi-dimensional substratum that can be compared to a canvas where the two-horn frontline, composed of trumpeter Steph Richards and saxophonist Ochion Jewell, probes fresh jazz idioms by drawing lines that agree and diverge.
The tonal vernacular of the horn section emerges distinctively on “Seedling” after a brief bass solo. Whereas Jewell’s disarming phrases arrive with an articulation and timbre that remind me of Ellery Eskelin's, Richards takes her explorations of sound to a stunning peak. This demonstration occurs on top of the dark-hued rock baseline that kept progressing with scintillating snare-drum rolls at the lower level.
The lucent instrumentation of “Requite” made me contemplate an imaginary crossing between Ralph Alessi and Manu Katché. The bandleader expands his language in a final vamp that swells to a crescendo. His knack for hiding the time through irregular or displaced beats confers an odd gravity to the music and that's particularly evident on the title track, whose erratic bass drum kicks eschew routine while preparing the terrain for the parallel movements and brief polyphony offered by the horn players as well as Belyamani’s solo. The pianist’s work is eminent on the contemporary rendition of “Les Cinq Doigts: Lento”, the sixth movement of Igor Stravinsky’s 1921 piano composition of the same name. It is the sole cover on the album.
This classical erudition is passed to the transitory “Prelude: Tree Fruit”, which goes directly into “Skyline”, a piece where the bowed bass fortifies the theme’s unison melody, and the mercurial lines thrown in by sax and trumpet swarm into the textural net. While listening to it closely, I glimpsed something of Dave Douglas quintet, both in sound aesthetics and structure.
Inventive and free-form shorter pieces are intercalated with the core compositions, and their surprise factor actually works! “Petite Feast” has Rhodes, muted trumpet, and protean saxophone immersed in surging exclamations and walloping interplay; “Driftwood” features Munsey's sophisticated mallet work, contrasting with the ethereal temperament of Jewell’s kalimba and Richards’ breath attacks and moans; “Undertow” incorporates buzzing and droning sounds, but ends up in an extravagant collective groove motivated by clattering, marching snare inflections; and “Schema”, a static, woody, percussive exercise with prepared piano.
Counterbalancing rigor and freedom, Munsey's music articulates and morphs through the fluid synergy created by the musicians involved. This is a valid first appearance as a leader, and its qualities make us look forward to more.
03 - Seedling ► 05 - Requite ► 10 - Skyline