Barney McAll – Flashbacks – Extra-Celestial/Scrootable Labs

by | Apr 10, 2009 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Barney McAll – Flashbacks – Extra-Celestial/Scrootable Labs, 57:36 ****:

(Barney McAll – piano, "Chucky," other keyboards; Kurt Rosenwinkel – guitar, tracks 1-7; Jay Rodriguez – tenor saxophone, tracks 1-4, and 6; Tiger Rex – alto saxophone, track 7; Josh Roseman – trombone, tracks 1-4, and 6; Drew Gress – acoustic bass, tracks 2-4, 6 and 7; Jonathan Maron – electric bass, tracks 1 and 5; Matt Pavolka – bass, track 8; Pedrito Martinez – Batá drum and percussion, tracks 1, and 3-5; Obed Calvaire – drums, tracks 1-7; George Schuller – drums, track 8)

Despite the title of his fifth album, Flashbacks, Barney McAll is a forward-thinking musician. He is a confident and inventive composer, has the enviable ability to create arrangements that have a cohesiveness even when performed by a septet, while allowing plenty of room for freedom and improvisation. And he can tell stories with his instrumental work, narratives that have distinct characters, moods, and an emotional appeal.

McAll skillfully intertwines disparate elements into the eight tracks that form Flashbacks, from Latin American underpinnings to electrifying fusion, from radio-friendly sections to abstract time changes.

McAll opens with "Elegua Dictate," a transformative tune inspired and influenced by Elegua, most commonly called Eshu , who is one of the best known deities of the Latin American Yoruba mythology. Its fitting that Elegua is a god of chaos and trickery, since "Elegua Dictate" includes some unpredictable elements, especially when McAll adds some understated Afro-Cuban rhythm to his authoritative groove. "Elegua Dictate" also involves most of the album’s key players, including renowned guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, drummer Obed Calvaire and prominent tenor saxophonist Jay Rodriguez. McAll and Rosenwinkel, in particular, share a simpatico throughout the proceedings that is similar to that achieved by Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny.

Unison playing is a prime part of McAll’s material. It certainly provides the whole recording an accomplished style. The title track, for example, includes a piano and sax section, where McAll and Rodriguez work through a strenuous melodic line, which shifts through alterations in the two-person breaks between the solo portions, with each interval successively more rhythmically intricate. While the outcome could have become too cagey or convoluted, McAll and Rodriguez, along with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Calvaire, buoyantly press on through each progression to the song’s boisterous conclusion.

The longest piece, "End of Things Start of Things," has an epic quality with many textures. There are subtle electronic bits fused with Pedrito Martinez’s slightly Middle Eastern percussion, and some poetic tenor sax colorings from Rodriquez, while McAll brings in cinematic solo passages suggestive of his independent film scoring projects. During the song’s second half, Rosenwinkel takes flight, sculpting a sizzling six-string solo that shows why top musicians such as Gary Burton and John Scofield have praised him.

McAll thematically returns to Latin American legends with the dark and symbolic "Red and Black Shifts." The title and the variable arrangement echo the trickster pranks and lessons of deities such as Elegua. The cut has a craggy, urban rock execution exemplified by Rosenwinkel’s grunge-inflected solo excursions, which call to mind both John McLaughlin’s shredding characteristics and Larry Coryell’s hard-edged, cutting tone. "Red and Black Shifts," though, is also one of the album’s foremost examples of McAll experimenting with fluid meters, melding Batá rhythms with different time signatures. There are instances during "Red and Black Shifts" when it feels McAll is not quite sure where things are going to go, but he somehow always manages to keep the sum of the parts focused.

McAll ends on a contemplative stratum with tender closer "Ten Days of Silence," where the ubiquitous unison communication is between McAll’s acoustic piano and Matt Pavolka’s sensitive stand-up bass. The sympathetic song also happens to be the best showcase for McAll’s self-made instrument he has dubbed Chucky, crafted from music boxes, with a glockenspiel, kalimbas, and some pickups on the wood, all directed to a delay pedal. McAll uses the unique construction to make high-end textural sounds that render an indirect electronic background that often has an underwater or celestial trait.

Flashbacks is a masterful achievement that reveals an engaging verve, and sophisticated yet earthy compositions. McAll’s lucid music exhibits an artist working at the top of his game with assurance, imagination, and  an impressive combination of melodic and rhythmic aptitude.

1. Elegua Dictate
2. Flashback
3. End of Things Start of Things
4. New Eyes
5. Red and Black Shifts
6. Circle Cycle
7. Costello
8. Ten Days of Silence

— Doug Simpson

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