The drums pound home, and it begins. The title is modern ("Explosion"), the sound is vintage: an early ‘Sixites groove you find on Blue Note. Alex Graham holds the alto, and gives it the high piercing sound from the old days (he doesn’t sound "like" anybody, but that tone is there.) He takes little phrases and spins them around, staying in the high end. He leaves off in a sliding line recalling the theme; the piano takes over. Whitney Ashe is fast and lyrical, dancing lightly while the left hand strikes hard. The drums are hard and the solo propulsive. It’s a good statement - it doesn’t explode, but it does burn, and so we go further…
"Forthcoming" is a gentle 6/8, pensive and anxious with the feel of autumn. Gary Wang is full and woody on the opening solo, snapping strings as Ashe chords loudly (a little too loudly - he nearly drowns Wang.) Graham is gentle: little fluttering lines that suggest falling leaves. He sounds confident, and his turn is better than "Explosion". Ashe gets warm, and his chords get full. It’s relaxed but it keeps moving, like a jaunt through the city. What’s forthcoming? More good stuff…
"Russian Lullaby" starts gently, Graham sounding the notes as Ashe sounds classical behind him. Then Matt Jorgensen pounds the beat and we’re off running. Graham dashes off endless lines, screams a little, and even plays with sheets of sound. It doesn’t sound like the Coltrane version, but boy does it try! Jorgensen gets a delicious sound from his cymbals; the end of his solo is also a treat. The early tracks showed Graham had potential; this says he’s ready.
The rich creamy tone comes through on "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most", a showcase. No flash or histrionics - just a strong tone on a strong tune. You hardly need more. Wang’s solo is wiry, and it walks deep. On this track the group is the star -you can say that about a lot of these.
Wang opens "Barracuda" on a thick strum, strong and menacing. Graham comes in slowly, and stays that way as the rhythm gets stronger. When he cuts loose, it’s with a hard tone: here a honk, there a flurry of notes. Ashe is edgy, with rhythmic fingers and a powerful left. The end theme is soft and tense, Graham and Ashe trading phrases as the drums get louder. Jorgenson brings very full drums to "Con Alma", and Graham is smooth as the theme pours from him. His solo has some grain to it, and it slides here and there, bouncing on the happy chords. And "More or Less" is a neat original, friendly but sad. Piano meditates, the cymbals wash on the shore, and Graham moans loud. Ashe goes introspective on his solo, musing quietly as the notes slowly fall. Graham is more forceful, and squeaks a little as he charges. Another deep statement from Wang, and Jorgensen (playing with mallets) thunders back. There now comes what sounds like a long fadeout, with mournful piano and scattered drums. Jorgensen goes double-time while all remain slow; he makes Graham intense, and everyone else gets in the program. It’s a busy minute or so, then the somnolence returns - and it’s beautiful - like a lot of this album.
Rating: *** . This has a lot going for it, much of it Alex Graham. His sound is full and developed, as is Gary Wang’s. Recommended are "Russian Lullaby", "Spring", "Barracuda", and "More or Less".
Songs: Explosion; Forthcoming; Russian Lullaby; Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most; Enlah; Barracudas; Con Alma; More or Less.
Musicians: Alex Graham (alto sax); Matthew Jorgensen (drums); Whitney Ashe (piano); Gary Wang (bass).