Label: SteepleChase, 2018
Personnel – Andrew Rathbun – tenor saxophone; Tim Hagans: trumpet; Gary Versace: piano; Jay Anderson: acoustic bass; Bill Stewart: drums.
Unquestionably, 2018 was a positive, busy year to Canadian saxophone stylist Andrew Rathbun, who, in the aftermath of his Atwood Suites, a jazz-orchestra project released on the Sunnyside label, collaborates once more with trumpeter Tim Hagans on his latest SteepleChase outing, Character Study. The quintet album, inspired by the idea of character and the political situation in America, is entirely composed of originals with the exception of “EtCetera”, in which Rathbun takes Wayne Shorter’s sound palette to something of his own. Starting in a trio setting with helical saxophone flames flying above the restless rhythm laid down by bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Bill Stewart, this classic piece also exhibits Rathbun’s motifs being replicated by the bassist. The swinging flux that persists while Hagan improvises is discontinued in favor of a looser texture, urging pianist Gary Versace to express his ideas against a funk-inclined background.
“The Golden Fool” prescribes a neo-bop steadfastness presented in the form of crisp unisons before a strong swinging foundation is installed. Hagans employs his often-spirited terminology with no harmony underneath, whereas Versace sneaks up on the scene, employing a docile, feel-good lyricism that breaks the flux. The reappearance of the theme separates his short intervention from Rathbun, who shuffles modernity and tradition in his discourse.
Versace is in evidence once again with a clean, measured piano work on “Team of Rivals”, which, together with the subsequent piece “Alphabet Deaf and Forever Blind”, consents to an uncomplicated behavior; and also on the Shorter-esque “The Long Awakening”, where the preliminary classical pianism doesn’t give away the sparkish musical surface that comes afterward. Here, one can acknowledge an ampler sense of orientation by Hagans and the bandleader when they’re on the fly.
Descriptive melodic statements flow from the title track, foiled against Stewart’s fizzing snare drum and Anderson’s punctual bass kicks. The final vamp allows the dexterous drummer to slightly expand his course of actions. He does it again, yet this time profusely on “Turmoil”, whose vividness comes not only from the driving virtuosity of the rhythm section but also from the soloists.
Rathbun’s challenging writing requires an attentive execution from his cohorts. All the same, the theoretical complexities turned spontaneous moves keep sounding natural, also due to the musicians’ ability to create a bond with the listener.
01 – The Golden Fool ► 05 - EtCetera ► 06 – The Long Awakening