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MP3 Snowblind - Taking Shape

Jazz Quintet - displays distinctive depth to original compositions that maintain listener accessibility.

10 MP3 Songs
JAZZ: Bebop, JAZZ: Traditional Jazz Combo

You need to hear this band. Snowblind writes their own songs -- imaginative, listenable songs -- that defy the path of least resistance. For young jazz musicians, this path is to perform timeless material from the Real Book by classic composers such as Jerome Kern, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk in a bar for twenty bucks and free beer. There’s nothing wrong with learning standards. Understanding those who came before us is necessary, but if Snowblind had remained content with revisiting the vast repertoire of widely known songs there probably would never have been a first CD -- much less the second one now in your possession. Snowblind’s first CD project, Arctic Fury, included five original compositions along with intriguing new arrangements of three jazz standards. Taking Shape ups the ante by offering an entire set of originals – two apiece by each of the five founding members. Their album impressed me from the very first playing. Having heard it dozens of times, not only do I not tire of it -- I continue to notice new depth and detail. Snowblind’s three-horn front line with bass and drums gives the group an open sound, especially during the solos. Without a chordal instrument, it would be easy for them to create lazy compositions that bore listeners. Instead, the sound of Snowblind’s horns stretching out against the bass and drums feels avant-garde. Bassist Mark Drehmann leads off the album with a tune he titled "Not Much." I beg to differ. There is a lot here to like, starting with an irresistible, syncopated vamp played by bass and drums. Adam Rossmiller enters with a written trumpet line that sounds improvised. The rhythm switches to a swing feel for the bridge, with trombonist Scott Agster playing a melody that cagily suggests Jerome Kern''s "I Love You" and Cole Porter''s "Night And Day" in one swoop, around which Shilad Sen weaves an improvised tenor sax line. The effect is reminiscent of some of Mingus''s ensembles. After Sen, Agster, and Rossmiller have had their say (each of them getting backing from the other horns, a technique used effectively throughout the album), Reid Kennedy plays a tour de force set of percussion variations while Drehmann keeps the bass vamp going. "Soylent Green,"by saxophonist Shilad Sen, is a hard-bop-influenced line that drives hard. At first listen, it sounds like a more conventional blowing tune with some horn writing that evokes Art Blakey''s Jazz Messengers, but after the head, the pianoless format creates an invitingly open canvas for the soloists. Drehmann leads off, sure-footed and dark-toned on bass. His solo leads into a propulsive walk that drives the horn soloists. Rossmiller is brassy, outgoing, Agster tough and punchy, Sen fluid and hard-swinging. His playing strikes me as a neat amalgam of Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson with maybe a bit of Charlie Rouse for good measure. Drummer Reid Kennedy throws each of them some syncopated accents to contend with on the bridge of the tune, keeping them on their toes. Anyone remember the 1973 science-fiction movie Soylent Green? I''m almost afraid to ask what inspired this song -- maybe a really bad experience at the salad bar? "The Lucky Award," by drummer Reid Kennedy, starts out sounding like a tender ballad but soon morphs into a jazz waltz. Scott Agster leads off with a beautifully dark-toned trombone solo, followed by Shilad Sen on tenor. Each soloist begins gently, building in intensity. Sen''s tenor solo reaches an emotional peak that provides a beautiful contrast to the gentle return of the melody. Kennedy demonstrates a fine sense of coloration and shading throughout. Anyone who thinks "sensitive drummer" is an oxymoron hasn''t heard Reid Kennedy. "Dark Mambo," the first of trombonist Scott Agster''s two contributions to this album, has the ring of authenticity -- Scott has lots of salsa band experience (he is currently a member of Salsa del Soul). Listen to the wonderful dynamics on the head. The players here, as elsewhere, sound like they have lived with this material for a while. Reid Kennedy''s second contribution, "For Keeps," is an intimate dedication in the form of a ballad. Interestingly, neither of Reid''s tunes are features for the drums; he even lays out in a few spots on this one. Adam Rossmiller caresses the melody on flugelhorn with a burnished tone. Scott Agster is next with a bluesy solo, showing the influence of older players like Jimmy Knepper and Vic Dickenson. He is followed by a lyrical Shilad Sen on tenor. Adam Rossmiller''s "I Can''t Remember Last Summer," loosely based on a 1950s pop tune, "The Things We Did Last Summer," brings some tongue-in-cheek humor into the proceedings. Bassist Graydon Peterson, one of two bassists who replaced Mark Drehmann after he relocated to New York, offers a big-toned, loping solo. Everyone plays a bit wilder and looser on this than on any of the preceding tunes. Different backgrounds behind each soloist help to advance the story: pointillistic behind Shilad''s tenor solo; fluttery-gurgly behind Scott''s wa-wa trombone soliloquy; a deranged march behind Adam''s trumpet outing. And check out the drunken circus waltz in the out chorus. Must have been quite a summer… Scott Agster''s second tune on the record, "Jill''s Delight," is a lovely jazz waltz built primarily on major-7th chords, which gives it that sunny-day feeling. Sen, Agster and Rossmiller all have pretty solos, and Reid Kennedy creates a rhythmic backdrop of ever-shifting colors. Shilad Sen''s "Ogilvie" is an uptempo swinger, beginning with just tenor and drums, allowing Sen plenty of harmonic freedom up front. After working out for a few choruses, he states the melody, revealing a 12-bar blues. At the Coltrane-like turnaround at the end the form, the rest of the ensemble joins in. After a limber trombone solo by Agster and some rollicking freebop from Rossmiller, we hear from Tom Lewis, who has also been performing with Snowblind since Drehmann’s departure, on bass. Tom is well known to Twin Cities jazz audiences as one of an elite group of players often called upon to back visiting jazz headliners and a key member of several local jazz groups. Dig the way he drives the band on this one with his fierce walking, and his cool, inside-outside solo. "And She Was Given Unto Him," by Adam Rossmiller, is perhaps the most ambitious work on this set, a through-composed piece filled with deep emotion and surprising changes of mood. Conceived in several distinct sections, the ballad label does not do justice to this music. Snowblind performs Rossmiller’s composition with great beauty and feeling. The set closer, "Nameless," by original bassist Mark Drehmann, is a high-energy, 32-bar tune that shifts effortlessly between Latin and swing thanks to Drehmann and Kennedy''s seamless grooves. The ‘A’ section reminds me of the last eight bars of the Sonny Rollins tune, "Airegin." After Agster''s fluent trombone solo (in swing time) and Sen with some Rollins-inspired tenor (over a Latin feel), Rossmiller takes a chorus in swing, then trades phrases (eights and then fours) with Kennedy, who segues directly into his own solo. On the head out, Rossmiller takes it up an octave on the last phrase -- an exciting conclusion to this finely crafted CD. Taking Shape is an impressive second album from a group that has come a long way in a short time. With compositions from all the members, covering a wide range of styles, they have forged a cohesive and compelling ensemble sound. I can''t wait to hear them live. --Dave Graf

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