Guitarist Justin Morell’s raga-informed intro on CD opener “Prized Possession” entreats the listener to get on board this somewhat disjointed but compositionally intricate session from saxophonist Hashem Assadullahi. Trumpeter Ron Miles’ luxuriant tone melds with Morell’s spaciousness before Assadullahi leads the sextet into various collectively inspired realms. Aptly named Pieces, things evolve and devolve into songs about lots of different subjects, using the mundane “A Bag of Oranges”, the weird “Fingersticks” and the mysterious “Dark Tower” to highlight and integrate a smorgasbord of styles.
Despite all this, Assadullahi rarely loses track of his own eclectic brand of swing. This is largely due to bassist Tyler Abbott and drummer Ryan Biesack, who usually succeed in holding things together. Miles brings his gorgeous voice and elegance to many of these pieces but the welcome surprise is pianist James Milney, who beautifully segues between rhythm and frontline roles. He is integral and his treatment of the pensively delicate melody on “Harbinger” is superb. Where things drift a bit are the middles of the longer cuts. “Dark Tower” has a great melody and feel and would be a super tune if it lost some of its meandering quality. Likewise, “The Straight Man” is a vehicle that gets lost a bit after a brilliant start.
Assadullahi is of a new generation of jazz musicians who have the compositional understanding, technique and improvisational skill to create complex works with beautiful melodies while at the same time drawing on a multitude of styles. He uses pop, swing, straightahead, classical, free and other genres as construction pieces. The trick is not to lose sight of one aspect of the music at the expense of another or throw something in for the sake of itself. That is very tough to do and with Pieces Assadullahi largely succeeds.