Erik APPLEGATE: – Two’s Company – Artist Alliance, 57:17 (2/1/17) ****:
(Erik Applegate; bass/Dana Landry; piano/ Steve Kovalcheck; guitar/ Paul McKee; trombone/ Kenyon Brenner; tenor saxophone/ Tom Amend; piano)
A fine bassist collaborates with five faculty members of the University of Northern Colorado on a set of duos.
Sometimes I grow a little tired of the instrumentation of the modern jazz ensemble and its restricted sonority. Trumpet, saxophone, guitar rhythm section plus or minus a guitar very nearly form a convention. In those moments, I wish I could ask all of the instruments to leave the stage but for the bass, plus one other. The duo would clear the air and provide a paring down and concentration of musical idea and expression. The result would be a more personal form of communication. As it happens, I have just discovered a new CD, digging deep into the pile, led by a bass player who collaborates with five different players in a set of duos.
Erik Applegate, the leader, does not have to go far to find his friends. They are all fellow instructors at Northern Colorado University music program. Applegate has played with some big names in the business as has piano player Dana Landry. His interest in composition comes to the fore on this recording in five original tunes. Each of his five collaborators also provide a tune each.
The oddest combination features the trombone of Paul McKee. It is surprising how well the sonorities of bass and trombone compliment even as they occupy the same range. The clever “Hansel’s Regrettal” is a fine feature for a lengthy trombone solo on a simple rollicking theme. It recalls, perhaps, the work of Rob McConnell on his relaxed Concord outings with guitarist Ed Bickert and a bass player.
The two pianists have contrasting styles. There is a little more harmonic argument in the playing of Tom Amend, while Dana Landry favors a linear and lyrical right hand, seen to advantage on the bassist’s “Raising Arizona.”
Meanwhile, Kenyon Brenner shows that he has paid his dues transcribing Joe Henderson solos, resulting in a fair amount of Henderson’s predilection for elliptical and jagged shapes to Brenner’s lines. On his own “Lucid Dreaming,” the bass has to work hard to keep the diffuse notions of the sax from incoherence, but in the end, it all comes together.
Guitarist Steve Kovalcheck shows nice timing on the tricky unison of “Get Outta My Head.” He deftly scrambles around on a not terribly memorable “Standing Room Only,” which has many chords, but overall, an undercooked flavor. Immediately after this, however, The leader is at his best on the highlight “Eighty, For Us.” It provides a short seminar on walking bass and features a finely articulated solo as well. The longest track, at 7:13, it neither flags or drifts.
As much as I prefer the duo, I would be keen to hear Applegate in a trio with Amend or Landry and the tenor saxophone. Also appreciated is the effort involved in writing some new charts. Apparently, standards at UNC music program are quite high all around and it would be a privilege to see these players in performance outside of Colorado.
TrackList: Leave Me Be; Get Outta My Head; The Key Still Fits; Maybe Something; Hansel’s Regrettal; Raising Arizona; Lucid Dreaming; Standing Room Only; Eighty, For Us; It’s Not Me, It’s You