Mike Rood – The Desert and the City – self-released, 56:56 ***:
(Mike Rood – guitar, producer; Alex Spradling – bass; Goh Izawa – drums; Mike Bjella – tenor saxophone)
New York City guitarist Mike Rood’s debut, the self-released The Desert and the City, is an open-faced, contemporary affair of originals which showcases his egalitarian tastes – which range from John Patitucci (an early teacher and family friend) and Pat Martino on the jazz side to progressive metal musicians Dream Theater and Jimi Hendrix on the rock side. There are shades of European classical impressionism and the ECM label as well.
Rood has a mostly understated technique (although when he wants to he can be assertive), which is partially demonstrated by a five fingerpick style which allows for a pianistic playing approach best appreciated when Rood concentrates on flowing lyricism. Rood’s backing band, The Mike Rood Communion, was formed in 2008 and has changed personnel over time. On this date Rood utilizes some younger, emerging East Coast artists: bassist Alex Spradling (who joined Rood just over a year ago and is pursuing a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music); tenor saxophonist Mike Bjella (who has appeared with Patitucci, Jimmy Heath and Jon Faddis and is a recent graduate of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, Rood’s alma mater); and drummer Goh Izawa, a current New School student who has previously worked with Bjella.
The quartet begins on a downcast demeanor with the title track and the equally atmospheric “Atonement.” The title track’s introductory section (the desert) is a through-composed arrangement which presents Bjella’s soft tenor sax (his tone sometimes echoes Jan Garbarek and other times Jane Ira Bloom) and Rood’s sublime mannerism which brings to mind Pat Metheny. Spradling’s arco bass accentuates the ambient melody. The second section (the city) is slightly more metropolitan, highlighted by Bjella’s sax solo. “Atonement” was written specifically to emphasize Bjella’s sax: here sax and guitar share parallel harmonies which slowly build, although the 12-minute progression to a faster pitch is so careful some may find it interminable. The lone ballad, “Uncertainty,” is more focused. Rood maintains a traditional determination which stresses his clean tone and fingerpicking. The rhythm section and sax are primarily supportive (Bjella is absent for an extended gap) as Rood takes a long, chordal improvisation. The brief guitar/sax duet “Curious Eyes” is an attractive if not truly memorable mid-tempo number which displays Rood’s chamber/classical music upbringing (both parents are symphonic violinists).
Rood’s rock-based deportment is revealed on eclectic, medium-paced “The Gate,” which evolves through different moods and changes akin to some of Rood’s avowed neo-prog icons. This does not rock heavily but anyone familiar with the quieter aspects of Dream Theater and associated bands should enjoy this tune. The lengthy cut “The Reckoning” is a fusion-streaked composition which commences with a nod to impressionist artists such as Ralph Towner, shifts a few times to quickened sections where Bjella has some animated solos, and concludes with a friendly upsurge and fade.
The closing “Dark Star” – not to be confused with The Grateful Dead concert staple – is another 12-minute piece which combines a Debussy-like quality with a Nordic jazz resonance. Bjella confirms Garbarek is a leading inspiration while Rood evokes Terje Rypdal’s spirit with a dry, floating sound which is somewhat otherworldly and not grounded in any earthiness. “Dark Star” expands beyond the initial ECM decoration, and by the seven-minute mark the foursome layers easy-on-the-ears jam band/jazz rock textures imbued with some essential energy.
Mike Rood is a fresh talent who still needs to find his own voice. His compositional attitude is thoughtful but at times also repetitive; he’s got a sure lyrical facility but – as the saying goes – still needs to mature and develop.
1. The Desert and the City
3. The Gate
5. The Reckoning
6. Curious Eyes
8. Dark Star
— Doug Simpson