Saxophonist Hashem Assadullahi and his core band returned to the studio to release an exceptionally strong sophomore effort with Pieces. The Texas born-Northwest cured-New York-based musician revealed his penchant for melody on his prior release Strange Neighbor (8bells, 2009). Here he builds upon that foundation with a scattering of themes from pop tunes, avant-garde leanings, and some deftly orchestrated group improvisations.
Assadullahi's returning partners here are guitarist Justin Morell and trumpeter Ron Miles, who yearly receives the "artist deserving wider recognition" award for his playing. The saxophonist augments Tyler Abbott (bass) and Ryan Biesack (drums) with pianist James Miley.
To Assadullahi's credit, the music ranges in style and tone. Opening with the Eastern feel "Prized Possession," and the closing track "The Missing Piece," he knits together the ethereal and spiritual sounds, à la John Coltrane, of both a serious and inquiring mind. A pretty, self-possessed ballad, "The Harbinger," finds the saxophonist playing a poised soprano saxophone line over, then around, the warm tones of Miles. The music is confidently arranged throughout. "Digging Out" by James Miley, could easily be mistaken for a Dave Douglas composition. The band pounces upon their prudent interplay, meshing notes to create an unperturbed swing.
Assadullahi ventures back to the heyday of the 1960s Blue Note sound with "Fingersticks," a piece that could've been imagined by Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson. The sextet mines a more contemporary approach with "Dark Tower" and "User Error," which feature Miley and Biesack, respectively. The almost throwaway piece, "Pretty" is a take on 60s pop music. While its simplicity suggests BJ Thomas singing a Burt Bacharach tune, its melody gets lodged in the mind's eternal loop. And that really is not a bad thing.