Rich Pellegrin Quintet – Three-Part Odyssey – OA2 22079, 72:53 ***1/2:
(R. Scott Morning – trumpet, Flugelhorn; Neil Welch – tenor saxophone; Rich Pellegrin – piano, producer; Evan Flory-Barnes – bass; Chris Icasiano – drums)
The Seattle jazz scene is vibrant and open-minded, with artists ranging from Thomas Marriott and Cuong Vu to The Zubatto Syndicate and Jeff Johnson. A new and up-and-coming Seattle jazz musician is the forward-thinking pianist Rich Pellegrin, whose debut release as a leader, Three-Part Odyssey, combines complex and dense structures, cyclical minimalism, avant-garde interludes and orderly post-bop jazz.
In his liner notes, Pellegrin states he wanted to work with artists “who were fascinated by simplicity, repetition, and groove; intense and aggressive players [who] also had a real sense of beauty and color to their playing.” Pellegrin found what he was looking for with R. Scott Morning (trumpet/Flugelhorn), tenor saxophonist Neil Welch, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes and drummer Chris Icasiano.
Although there is no overriding thematic unit which ties the album together, Pellegrin balances his 72-minute CD into three distinct sections, hence the title. The first segment uses two compositions from Morning and one from Flory-Barnes to create pieces which spotlight trumpet and sax, low-end bass and piano, and bop or post-bop influences. Morning’s opener, “Nothing Comes to Mind,” utilizes a lightly discordant but rhythmic arrangement, a solid nearly hypnotic bass groove, Pellegrin’s dissonant piano, and sometimes thick tones which teeter toward atonality, particularly near the halfway mark. Despite avant-garde edges fronted by Pellegrin and Welch, though, the band formulates an explorative brew which maintains an appetizing essence. Flory-Barnes’ slowly winding “Distant, Distorted, You,” on the other hand, sustains a mostly straightforward jazz approach. Welch and Morning glide along with persistently lyrical improvisations while Pellegrin and Icasiano layer a late-night rhythmic bedrock. As the tune progresses the arrangement gradually accelerates until the melody becomes chaotic and choppy and the result is an abrasive ending. Morning’s “Obtusity” shares some of the contention exhibited in the first track plus some of the post-bop elements of the second tune. Morning supplies forthright trumpet reminiscent of Freddie Hubbard while Flory-Barnes and Icasiano fashion a vigorous and shifting time signature which provides a scuffled quality.
The second part also includes three cuts and has connections to chamber jazz, minimalism and European orchestral jazz. Welch’s dynamic “Breathe” has a chamber-music candor – which also flits toward the avant-garde – highlighted by Pellegrin’s mid-range keyboards, Flory-Barnes’ flowing and melodic bass and Welch’s haunting sax. Pellegrin’s tense “Pastiche” dispenses with the horns and escalates the chamber-music characteristics with sonorous arco bass and avant-classical piano chords. The tune’s architecture bears a stronger resemblance to experimental classical music rather than jazz. The band’s affinity toward modern composition extends into an unusual arrangement of Steve Reich’s processed piece, “Piano Phase,” where the quintet tries to morph Reich’s out-of-phase composing style into a five-instrument, jazz-like configuration: a brave attempt which does not quite work.
The final section displays Pellegrin’s composing skills and returns to jazz/avant-garde terrain. During the jazzier “Marruecos,” named after an area in Puerto Rico, Morning is once again spotlighted and shows a Hubbard-like disposition. “Marruecos” is a stunner, with striking use of sax/trumpet coloring and intricate interchanges between each player: while it does not echo “Concierto de Aranjuez,” it does evoke that composition’s narrative mannerism and graceful melodicism. Pellegrin’s album-ending “Maze” is equally good and poises a suggestive poignancy against swinging, bop-ish elements emphasized by Pellegrin’s fast-moving piano runs, frantic bass and drums and Welch’s Albert Ayler-esque sax flourishes.
Rich Pellegrin does not take the easy route during his Three-Part Odyssey. There is music which is uncomfortable and replete with fluctuating contrasts; but there is also a unique point of view and a vital collaborative perspective. Pellegrin has commenced the initial step toward what might prove to be an interesting journey.
1. Nothing Comes to Mind
2. Distant, Distorted, You
6. Piano Phase
— Doug Simpson