4 1/2 STARS
The debut recording from one of the most exciting new groups around, Clarity
documents a boppish session of straight ahead traditional jazz delivered by the Unhinged Sextet, a well-seasoned cast of players from all corners of the country who have joined forces for this dynamic recording. Led by pianist Michael Kocour, Director of Jazz Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, where the project was recorded, the band is comprised of a collection of educators and professional musicians from Phoenix, Seattle to North & South Carolina who came together in a collaborative effort to blend their individual original musical concepts into one package. The results of course, is nothing short of stellar in many ways, from compositional excellence to strong tight musical cohesiveness in stark contrast to the group's chosen "Unhinged Sextet" name.
Kocour and band provide a twelve-track repertoire of fresh new originals in varied styles and colors giving the listener a taste of different sounds and textures to savor. The music opens up with the hard bop "Unhinged" featuring trumpeter Vern Sielert and Kocour on sizzling solos in addition to shots from tenor saxophonist Matt Olson - who penned the composition - as well as another solo from alto saxophonist Will Campbell. The following Kocour original "Far From East," is definitely one of the keepers of the disc featuring more tasteful solos from the crew while, "Watch Out of the Way," turns into one of those fast-paced burners one needs to get out of the way from lest you be run over by the quick tempo.
As one begins to think that all here is fast and furious, the title track ("Clarity") brings it all in focus providing a calmer voice in a soft beautiful ballad written by bassist Jon Hamar designed for a little musical transparency, for a little "Clarity" on their music. Saxophonist Campbell's "Down South" displays some of the variety found on this recording with a piece that exhibits a bit of the hard lively funky flavor not present in other tracks. Two memorable tunes of the set are "Scout, No Doubt," and "Leaving Soon" while trumpeter Sielert's original "Derecho," brings out the horn section in stylish fashion.
The session begins to wind down on the superb "Change" featuring more solos from various members of the group with the steady drum play of Dom Moio and like the pianist, is a fellow educator from Arizona State University. Moio's splashy stick work introduces the finale "Squiggles" where the pianist shines on the keys and helping to end this striking session of great jazz much in the same way it began, in burning flashy style. There's no question about Clarity, it is clearly one of the finest musical statements one will encounter on today's jazz landscape. In addition, one sample of this album is enough to dispel any thoughts of a musical group that is coming apart, unhinged in any way. Far from the truth, as the brilliant play and sophisticated compositions from the band will surely illuminate.