The first thing that immediately strikes you about Seattle drummer/percussionist/composer Steve Korn's latest recording, Points In Time, is his remarkably musical cymbal technique. Whether it be his ability to lightly brush the face of the cymbals with just the very tip of the drumstick, or riding out the rhythm on larger cymbals, Korn is able to work musical magic with one of the most overlooked and taken for granted aspects of drumset playing. On the up-tempo numbers, the mid-tempo introspective pieces or the ballad, Korn never ceases to amaze with his light and lithe ability.
But for Korn, the cymbal work is just the tip of the iceberg. He is a drummer/musician of utmost taste who plays with radar ears. Carefully listening to the direction each of the soloists in the ensemble goes, Korn is able to support and gently prod his fellow musicians into playing some very pretty lines through the use of subtle polyrhythmic and suppressed accent encouragement. Whether on sticks or brushes, Korn's abilities are uniformly excellent.
The rest of the musicians play with an equal amount of careful agreement. Saxophonists Mark Taylor and Rob Davis have not just incredible ears with respect to intonation, which is impeccable no matter the instruments they're playing, but also to the ways improvised musical phrases can dash and dart through and between chord changes. These musicians craft some unimpeachably sweet lines. Each of their solos not only match the character of the pieces, but also, when soloing against each other at the same time, match the thoughts of the other - a rare treat indeed.
Marc Seales is a distinctively unique pianist who fashions his solos in ways that at first appear divergent to the composition at hand, but build to their own conclusion. Bassist Paul Gabrielson is a strong, capable bassist who knows there are times to hit the tonic on one and when it makes harmonic and musical sense to approach the underpinning of the ensemble's lines in another manner. These two musicians play with a tasteful quality one wishes was evident on every recording.
While all of the above is absolutely true, and the playing on these pieces is wonderful, there is still a detached quality about each of the tunes, that is, at times, hard to get around. Korn's compositions, seven of the nine are his, as well as the other two which are of a similar bent, are obviously the result of a very personal musical vision. The works sound, however, to come from a vision that is very fragile. Because of this, the musicians never really get a chance to throw-down, as it were. The end result is a disc full of excellent playing, but for the most part - detached. Overall it sounds as if the musicians are being just a little too careful with the material.