The Jeff Albert Quartet – Similar in the Opposite Way – Fora Sound, FORA-0801, 45:22 ***1/2:
(Jeff Albert – trombone, producer; Ray Moore – alto saxophone; Tom Sciple – bass; Dave Cappello – drums)
Trombonist Jeff Albert is one of the few jazz artists melding New Orleans and Chicago jazz sensibilities. Albert dubs his work a New Orleans/Chicago continuum, combining Southern grooves with an adventurous and suggestively experimental Northern aesthetic. On his ten compositions that make up Similar in the Opposite Way, listeners can hear Albert’s gumbo of influences, including J.J. Johnson, Ornette Coleman, The Meters, and other musicians.
The Jeff Albert Quartet’s funk roots get explored during slinky “Bag Full of Poboys.” Drummer Dave Cappello locks into a purposeful pulse, while Albert and saxophonist Ray Moore pull out some decisive solos. Moore’s high toned notes twist, corkscrew, and season the funky and swinging selection. The rhythm and blues factor is also heard to fine effect on character study “9th Ward Trotsky,” a pliant piece framed by Cappello’s lithesome percussion performance, highlighted by his occasional cymbal snaps, and Tommy Sciple’s shuffling bass. The trombone and alto sax circulate the coiling and catchy melody, texturing solo paths as counterpoints to the reverberating tempo.
Albert explains in the liner notes his songwriting is divided between three categories: songs with predetermined grooves and tonal centers, such as “Bag Full of Poboys,” tunes that firmly imply a particular rhythmic feel but are harmonically very open, and conceptual improvisation guides or catalysts. The well-named chamber-jazz reverie, “Subtle Flower,” is a good display of Albert’s abstract side, showcasing protracted resonance, and almost incantatory phrases. The arrangement allows Moore to converse with Sciple during Albert’s improvisations; Albert follows suit when Moore takes the lead. The musing ballad is especially affecting since the conception favors a heightened collective realization, rather than furnishing the foursome overt solo spaces. Another abstruse article that has a free-flowing framework is the concentrated morsel “Chalk & Chocolate,” a rhythmically progressive concoction.
The curiously labeled “Morph My Cheese” is the album’s most avant-garde title, mixing muted horns with an orchestrated, free-jazz/fusion flavor reminiscent of early Frank Zappa or Henry Cow. There is no persuasive melody to govern the challenging rendering, giving it a dense discordant essence that may disengage some listeners. More likeable is “I Was Just Looking For My Pants,” a restive but effective exposition wandering from multi-rhythmic volleys to conspicuous sax/trombone blasts, all presented with poise and prankish wit.
The band ends with resolutely accented closer, “Rooskie Cyclist,” which couples a Louisiana-swayed groove with Windy City references and convictions. The excursion is an excellent example of how Albert has found a new course that crosscuts different geographical musical communities which can coexist together. While certain moments on Similar in the Opposite Way sometimes do not gel, Albert is a perceptive composer, and it is apparent he is developing an artistic astuteness and charting a unique road that will be worth following.
1. Similar in the Opposite Way
2. I Was Just Looking For My Pants
3. 9th Ward Trotsky
4. Subtle Flower
5. Chalk & Chocolate
6. Bag Full of Poboys
7. (Could Have Been a) Napkin
8. Folk Song
9. Morph My Cheese
10. Rooskie Cyclist
— Doug Simpson