PJ Rasmussen – Another Adventure [TrackList follows] – Third Freedom Music 888295037617, 58:17 [3/4/14] ***1/2:
(PJ Rasmussen – guitar; Jim Ridl – piano; Jim Difiore – drums; Adrian Moring – bass; Steve Davis – trombone; Nate Giroux – tenor and alto saxophone; Ben Hankle – trumpet; Lauren Sevian – baritone saxophone (tracks 1, 3); Scott Robinson – tenor and soprano saxophone (tracks 1, 3))
Guitarist PJ Rasmussen seems to have a taste for travel, transportation or movement. His 2013 debut was called Adventures in Flight and included tracks such as “Avionics” and “Sunday Driver.” Rasmussen’s hour-long, sophomore outing is entitled Another Adventure and has tunes such as “Full Speed Ahead,” “Under a Wave” and “The Seven Seas.” Despite the thematic connections, though, Another Adventure is not a collection of maritime material set to a jazz beat. Rather, Rasmussen and his septet (buoyed by two guest saxophonists) run through nine Rasmussen-penned compositions which touch on Blue Note-influenced bop, soul jazz, straightforward jazz, quietly stirred balladry, fusion and more. Overall, Rasmussen favors an ensemble approach but with lots of solo pockets.
Rasmussen can rock hard when he wants to, evidenced on incendiary opener, “Full Speed Ahead.” A serpentine baritone sax, courtesy of guest Lauren Sevian (whose résumé includes the Mingus Big Band), layers a salty channel, matched by Rasmussen’s firm riffs and powerful chords. Second guest saxophonist Scott Robinson, on tenor, also provides some splashy solo space. Things get trippy at the midpoint, where the tempo takes some wild deviations and the music is heavier and more avant-garde. Luckily, the groove is not lost and an R ’n B-shaped syncopation steers the tune back into familiar waters. Rasmussen also showcases his guitar pyrotechnics during “Out of Phase,” an angular and dynamic number which shifts from a Latin undercurrent to electrifying elements akin to Larry Coryell’s jazz-fusion work with his Eleventh House group.
Some fans bring up Art Blakey when talking about Rasmussen. Certainly that’s an apt description for the swinging cut “Love Birds,” which has a mid-1960s slant which would have fit in with quite a few Blue Note releases of that era. Adrian Moring’s walking bass lays out a finger-snapping cadence; trombonist Steve Davis proves why he’s a go-to guy for other musicians like Cory Weeds; and trumpeter Ben Hankle and saxophonist Nate Giroux keep the horns moving and flowing. Another piece which evokes Blakey’s spirit and sound is the bouncy “A Study in Scarlet.” One listen to this and there’s no mystery Rasmussen must have explored the Jazz Messengers with depth and understanding. More trombone and trumpet make their presence felt. Davis’ solo gives one hope the trombone will never vanish in the jazz realm and other, younger players will maintain the trombone as a lead instrument.
Rasmussen also appreciates the calmer creativity inherent in jazz. “Under a Wave” begins with an atmospheric onset and is led by pianist Jim Ridl (who has also recorded with Sheryl Bailey), who comps with grace and strengthens a multifaceted rhythmic foundation with the bass and cymbals-clicking drums. Giroux’s tenor sax and Davis’ trombone also augment the main theme with aplomb, while Rasmussen slips in and out of the arrangement. Rasmussen displays some blues roots on the Southern soul-esque ballad “Ruthie,” where his sustained notes are smoothly supported by a lacy horn section. While some might think of Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan, this emotive piece more closely resembles early Boz Scaggs, prior to Scaggs’ sophisticated radio mannerism. Rasmussen concludes with another tribute, the radiant “For David,” which is highlighted by Moring’s poignant arco bass, Rasmussen’s gossamer acoustic guitar notes, and Ridl’s suppliant piano. Another Adventure is not meant to break conventions. That’s not Rasmussen’s intent. Let others crash away from jazz history and tradition. For Rasmussen, the aim is to take listeners on a journey where recognizable landmarks can be noticed and the travel tales have an identifiable resonance.
TrackList: Full Speed Ahead; Love Birds; Another Adventure; Under a Wave; The Seven Seas; Ruthie; Out of Phase; A Study in Scarlet; For David.