John Goldman’s Quadrangle – Outside the Box – JG Music, 57:17 ***1/2:
(John Goldman – alto saxophone, flute, producer; Kendall Moore – trombone; Leslie Beukelman – vocals; Scott Hesse – guitar; Patrick Mulcahy – bass; Cory Healey – drums; Juan Pastor – percussion (track 6))
There’s a methodical and deceptively laid back nature to John Goldman’s music. On his newest venture, Outside the Box, the saxophonist, who also plays flute, deliberately bypasses showy solo statements, exaggerated ensemble arrangements and overly-complex phrasing or melodic lines. With his recently reconfigured group, Quadrangle, Goldman presents a low-key and effectual hour-long program of mostly likeminded originals – the band also covers “Monk’s Mood” – that explore post-bop, African-influenced jazz, gospel and other facets of Goldman’s personality.
Quadrangle’s most notable lineup alteration is the new front line: trombonist Kendall Moore and vocalist Leslie Beukelman. On opener “Color Therapy” Beukelman adds wordless melodic backing that provides shading to the lightly flowing piece, which echoes the Flora Purim-era Return to Forever, when Chick Corea’s group emphasized Latin inspirations and a smoother temperament. Beukelman’s full vocals come to the foreground on Goldman’s declaration of devotion, “Higher Faith,” a song Goldman has recorded twice before. While it may appeal to jazz vocal fans, it emerges as the weakest cut, surrounded as it is by much finer material. The Norah Jones-ish arrangement feels flatter than the other tracks and the mainstream manner is stretched too thin.
On the other hand, Goldman’s latest endeavors show his developed writing quality and skill. The cuts dedicated to other musicians are standouts. “Moore Is More” is a vehicle penned vividly for trombonist Moore, who delivers a lyrical solo that focuses on tone and melody rather than virtuosity. When Goldman moves in on alto sax, the tune takes a turn into headier territory and when guitarist Scott Hesse takes the spotlight the number curves again to showcase a bit of the Blue Note period. “Hesse’s Steps,” as the title suggests, is an outlet for Hesse where he shines and displays his six-string dexterity. This is the most urgent cut, fueled by Hesse’s fiery fret runs, bassist Patrick Mulcahy’s driving bass and drummer Cory Healey’s stimulating stick work. Beukelman slips in some ethereal vocalizations at one point to augment Goldman’s higher-register sax. Another creation that also has liberally improvised moments is “Harrison,” which Goldman wrote for AACM bassist Harrison Bankhead. Bankhead unfortunately does not sit in but Quadrangle is supplemented by percussionist Juan Pastor, who supplies underlying rhythmic enhancements. This has the record’s most rebellious parts due to a middle section fragmented by Hesse’s tangled electronics, although most of the seven and a half minutes features a swinging disposition that has a loose Afro-jazz underpinning.
Goldman and company end with two warmly constructed titles. Thelonious Monk’s oft-recorded “Monk’s Mood” is trimmed to a trio format that highlights Beukelman’s nonverbal but expressive voice and Goldman and Hesse’s melodic and touchingly melancholic performance. The arrangement is nearly too gentle for its own good but the trio pulls it off. The CD closes with Goldman’s Latin jazz composition, “Soy Gonzo,” which is another one Goldman authored years ago. Goldman turns to flute to give a sweeter ambiance which fits the happy-go-lucky setting. Everyone also contributes to the friendly feeling reminiscent of Chico O’Farrill’s most delicate efforts.
1. Color Therapy
2. Moore Is More
3. Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hill
4. Hesse Steps
5. Higher Faith
7. Monk’s Mood
8. Soy Gonzo
— Doug Simpson