Drummer Matt Jorgensen's 451 band has had several incarnations with varying personnel over the past few years. What they have all shared is spirited and intelligent interpretations of well-chosen material. "The Road Begins Here" exemplifies Jorgensen's spirit as a leader on record with the most cohesive group to date. This is due in large part to great collective and individual statements by his sidemen.
The elegant and inventive Fender Rhodes of Marc Seales on five of the seven tracks seems to define the groove of this album. The combination of that warm fuzzy tone with Seales' brainy chops elevates and contrasts the intensity of Rob Davis' tenor and the hip pockets of Jorgensen and bassist Phil Sparks. Check out the cool beauty of their cover of Led Zepplin's "No Quarter." Seales somehow conveys the essence of the moody rock original while discovering and developing new funky jazz melodies within.
Tenor saxophonist Rob Davis weighs in after a stint in New York with more power and confidence than ever. His interplay with Seales, his former instructor at the UW, seems natural and effortless. Davis builds and burns into cathartic shrieks and falls out to reveal Seales' snake-like rhythmic explorations. His playing seems to conjure the rhythmic spirit of Joe Henderson on Jorgensen's "From Nowhere to Here" and "For Tony" without ever becoming derivative. There's a real sense of urgency to his attack on most tracks and never any doubt that he means what he's saying. He can also whisper with strained understatement as on Coltrane's lovely "Central Park West." Davis also contributes "Afterglow," a sunny original composition with an easy swing.
The solid and soulful Phil Sparks keeps the train on track, allowing Jorgensen to rock out when necessary. His playing especially shines through with propulsive plucking on Jimmy Heath's "Gingerbread Boy" and Miles Davis' "Teo." But even when he's deeply anchored in the groove, you feel the power of his pulse and the size of his ears. Jorgensen himself seems to look for and find surprises in the jazz-rock connection in all of his material. His playing on this recording connects drummers from Tony Williams to John Bonham without seeming contrived or even conceptual. He definitely rocks, but never overpowers his cohorts.
Matt Jorgensen's 451 has succeeded in creating a hip, thoughtful, emotional and sincere jazz recording. A rare and promising combination for jazz in the 21st Century.