Steve Treseler Group – Center Song [TrackList follows] – CMA Records CMA 004, 56:44 [2/5/14] ***1/2:
(Steve Treseler – tenor saxophone (tracks 1-7, 11-12), alto saxophone (track 13), clarinet (tracks 8-10), bass clarinet (track 1), producer; Ingrid Jensen – trumpet; Dawn Clement – piano (tracks 1-2, 4, 7-9, 13); Dan Kramlich – piano (tracks 3, 11); Chris Spencer – guitar (tracks 1-2, 4-5, 9, 13); Meg Risso – cello (tracks 7-10, 13); Jon Hamar – double bass (tracks 2-4, 6, 9, 11); Dean Schmidt – electric bass (tracks 1, 5, 7, 13); Steve Korn – drums))
Seattle-based multi-horn player Steve Treseler (tenor and alto sax, clarinet and bass clarinet) broadens his compositional and performance palette on his expanded ensemble project, the nearly hour-long Center Song. Treseler dubs his new group a mini-big band, although the material and playing is more dynamic than that term might imply. Treseler’s debut, Resonance (2008), introduced his post-bop tones, and used a smaller configuration. This time, Treseler magnified everything. He assembles explorative music which combines innovation with tradition, balances composition with improvisation, and branches out into folk and rock influences. To accomplish this, Treseler adds guests to his primary group, most notably trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (of the Maria Schneider Orchestra), another Pacific Northwest artist, whom Treseler met several years ago. Others include drummer Steve Korn, pianist Dawn Clement (on seven tracks), pianist Dan Kramlich (on two cuts), and guitarist Chris Spencer (on six tunes). Jon Hamar (on double bass) and Dean Schmidt (electric bass) split bass duties, and cellist Meg Risso is featured on four numbers.
The 13 tracks reveal Treseler’s myriad inspirations. One highlight is Lee Konitz’s “Kary’s Trance,” which is based on a live 1975 Konitz interpretation of his enduring tune, rather than Konitz’s initial 1956 version. “Kary’s Trance,” in turn, was prompted by Lennie Tristano’s music, so the track mingles jazz’s ‘cool’ school with an angular rhythm and melody. As Treseler points out, this “sets up a different feel for the rhythm section.” Another risk-taking piece is Treseler’s translation of “Days Were Golden,” by Seattle’s alt-rockers Sunny Day Real Estate. Treseler’s mid-tempo rendition emphasizes an ardent melodic motif juxtaposed against an underlying, grungy guitar and beautiful, ringing cello.
Most cuts were written by Treseler. The brief, two-part “Inner Sounds” is through-composed, and began as a sketch for a creative music workshop led by trumpeter Dave Douglas. Album opener “Inner Sounds, Part I” has a narrative flow which finishes far too soon. The second, also shortened, portion comes almost 20 minutes later, and concludes Treseler’s auditory scenario. That sense of storytelling is replete on the thorough “11,000 Miles,” which delineates the distance between Melbourne, Australia and Prince Edward Island in Canada, the homes of two friends/musicians who stimulated Treseler’s elegiac piece. It’s constructed with two distinct sections which indicate the personalities of two people, so it feels like two tunes woven into one. The second half showcases Jensen’s trumpet in all its inventive brilliance. The title track (penned by Jensen), is appropriately at the CD’s midpoint, and displays unison lines which overlap to craft a personal, emotional core, and has a structure which is straightforward while also being investigative. The impression of autobiographical aspects is also intuited during the descriptive “Painted Trail,” accentuated by Clement’s shining keyboard flourishes and Korn’s ticking drum sticks on his cymbals. Treseler posits a pre-war nostalgia during “At Home,” which is underscored by Treseler’s clarinet, Risso’s plaintive cello, Hamar’s wistful bass (particularly during a sublime solo) and Spencer’s tasteful guitar. Jazz tradition is at the forefront on the sure-footed “Cold Hammered,” where Treseler’s warm tenor sax good-humoredly rides atop the rhythms of Kramlich, Hamar and Korn, and later in the arrangement, Jensen once again exhibits why she’s a trumpeter who deserves more recognition.
Those sensitive moments are set apart by angular, open improvisations which may be jarring to some listeners. The fiery and concise “Ultra Tempo” is a fast-paced, dissonant sonic stab, dedicated to saxophonist George Garzone, who taught both Treseler and Jensen. The equally abrasive and condensed “Abyss” has discordant components, including screeched cello, jangled piano notes and breathy horns. In contrast, the cello-rich “Chorale” has an ephemeral form and could be tapped as a movie theme. The parallel “Interlude” also has a cinematic candor, and has a lovely melody which almost disproves the way it was freely fashioned. From start to finish, engineer/mixer Reed Ruddy helps the music come to life. He brings out the subtle details of clarinet, acoustic bass, higher-register piano notes and light rhythmic touches, while also supporting the other instruments in ways which heighten Treseler’s vision and artistic ideas. For those who are interested, there is an online video where Treseler explains why he wanted to work with Jensen and the reason for the diversity of music on this record. The video also has snippets of the musicians in the studio.
TrackList: Inner Sounds, Part I; Painted Trail; Kary’s Trance; 11,000 Miles; Inner Sounds, Part II; Ultra Tempo; Center Song; Abyss; At Home; Chorale; Cold Hammered; Interlude; Days Were Golden.