Mike Holober – Balancing Act – Palmetto PALM22058, 61:06 ***:

(Mike Holober – piano; Kate McGarry – voice; Marvin Stamm – trumpet, Flugelhorn; Dick Oatts – alto & soprano sax, flute; Jason Rigby – tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Mark Patterson – trombone; John Hébert – bass; Brian Blade – drums)

In today’s musical environment, jazz is very much like social networking sites. Every day there is something new, but it may not have staying power. There are the tried and true names such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., that combined have registered users into the billions of individuals. There are others such as 43 Things, Daily Booth, and Orkut that have already closed for lack of interest. Where Mike Holober and his vision of jazz eventually comes down remains to be seen, but the journey should be interesting.

It is clear from the opening track “Book Of Sighs” that the music presented here is informed by Holober’s personal insights and direction. The clear lead on this track is vocalist Kate McGarry and she is so featured on each cut in the remainder of the session in one form or another. Although Holober carries the workload in terms of the number of compositions, there are a couple of covers, including Billy Joel’s “Lullabye, Goodnight My Angel”. While not one of Joel’s more recognizable numbers, it has a certain sensibility that works well with some incantatory saxophone playing, and wordless note singing from McGarry.

“Grace At Sea” is another Holober composition that gives his pianistic skills some space to showoff. McGarry carries the vocal requirements that are a poetic accompaniment to the music. Trombonist Mark Patterson is full measure for his solo efforts. Another cover is the Janis Joplin rocker “Piece Of My Heart” with McGarry offering the vocal. No comparison can be contemplated as the intentions are completely different. Marvin Stamm delivers a well-planned muted solo that adds an interesting dynamic to the number. Stamm is also to be found on open horn on “Canyon” where he swopes and dives to good effect,  followed by Dick Oatts on alto as he develops the structure further.

Balancing Act is an interesting construct for the more serious-minded jazz aficionados.

TrackList: Book Of Sighs; Idris; Lullabye, Goodnight My Angel; Grace At Sea; Piece Of My Heart; Canyon; Sighs Matter; When There Were Trains

—Pierre Giroux