Released in November, Constraints & Liberations is trumpeter and flugelhornist Thomas Marriott?s second release of 2010, and it is his most satisfying disc to date. Marriott leads his quintet of saxophonist Hans Teuber, bassist Jeff Johnson, percussionist John Bishop, and pianist Gary Versace through seven original compositions, including Jeff Johnson?s ?Clues.? Hailed in Paul de Barros? liner notes as Marriott?s breakthrough album, Constraints & Liberations is certainly a cause for celebration ? an intelligently conceived and beautifully executed project that will focus still more eyes on Marriott?s rising star.
The sonority and structure of Marriott?s opening ?Diagram? immediately point toward one of the trumpeter?s main influences, Miles Davis ? specifically his Second Quintet. Marriott?s quintet briskly dispatches with the melody ? a launching point for the improvisations ? for the harmonic freedom of Johnson?s free-bopping bass and Bishop?s skating accompaniment. Marriott and Teuber trade phrases, neither taking an extended solo, before the quintet re-states the melody to impose structure on the spontaneous arrangement (another innovation of Miles? band). Versace, who sat out during the horns? trading, takes a compelling solo that can?t help but seem clipped by the tracks four-minute runtime.
Fine though the playing is on ?Diagram,? the following ?Up From Under? is a richer illustration of the band?s vision, and is the first sign that something truly special is taking place. ?Up From Under? is reportedly Marriott?s personal favorite track of the album, and it is clear why. The band sustains an incredible level of focus and inventiveness throughout the ballad, building off of Versace?s thematic improvisation. The presence of the extraordinary Versace, a veteran of John Hollenbeck and Maria Schneider?s ensembles, and with whom Marriott played while living in New York, contributes much to the quintet?s sound. His playing is at once deeply mysterious, sensitive, and logical. Marriott patiently follows Versace?s improvisation with long, warm notes, subtly bent or stressed in articulation, which variations fill the music with power. Marriott?s tone is gorgeous, and is a joy to listen to in the lower registers of the horn. Slowly Marriott builds to a climax, his skills as an architect here serving the emotional force of the composition. Teuber follows, and he is more immediately playful, introducing a short bounce to the music. His unexpected phrasing is refreshingly funky and the band clearly enjoys supporting him. Less forcefully dramatic than Marriott and Versace?s statements, Teuber balances the arc of the tune perfectly, and repeated listening has revealed him to be a hero of the composition. The out-head features Versace, Bishop, and Johnson building over the static harmony for a weighty close. A stunner.
Things are not so uniformly dark, as the exploding harmonic color of ?Constraints and Liberations? shows. Bishop and Johnson?s suspended time is both loose and intensely sensitive. As a whole, the album secures a thrilling balance between these rhythmically-assured fireworks and a wider abstraction, as exemplified by Marriott?s ?Waking Dream.? There Marriott?s muted solo is a thought-provoking and complex meditation, quite unlike anything else on the album. His arrangement, meanwhile, is sparse, leaving ample space for his fiercely individual bandmates to discover the composition?s meaning. Each original composition yields a fresh approach by the quintet, while never straying below total conviction.
The closing ?Treadstone 71? pays homage to the Bourne Identity series with an eerie, repeated horn figure. The track is largely a feature for Bishop, who controls the pacing and intensity of the performance and who is nothing short of magnificent. It is a beguiling and appropriate close to the album, raising still more questions as it punctuates the session. But if there is one thing now certain about the path Marriott will pursue next, it is that it will be his own. I would tune in to follow.