There's a sense of danger and change on Phenomenology, trumpeter Liam Sillery's fourth CD release on OA2 Records. His quintet--trumpet, saxophone, and rhythm section--often sounds as if it's leaning over the edge of a cliff, just a degree or two away from tipping and falling.
It hasn't always been this way with Sillery. His debut, Minor Changes (OA2 Records, 2004) and the follow-up, On the Fly (OA2 Records, 2006) could both be called mainstream affairs, often described as having a "classic Blue Note Records sound." With Outskirts (OA2 Records, 2007) Sillery and the group took a step in an edgier and a more free direction. With Phenomenology the band pushes the sound even further along these lines.
The disc opens with the title cut. Front liners Sillery and alto saxophonist Matt Blostein play in unison, with sharp tangents in the mix, in a fashion similar to Miles Davis on Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti." The ominous feel of the two horns opening together continues with a stealthy and searching Sillery solo, followed by Blostein taking his saxophone through dark passages. The rhythm, supplied by pianist Jesse Stacken, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, conjures up shades of the Tell Tale Heart of Poe fame. Pianist Stacken gets a solo slot and makes the most of it, using a supple touch combined with relentlessness to crank up the tension, advancing to the edge of the drop-off before the horns blow in and pull things back from the abyss.
"Lifecycle" finds Sillery and Blostein staggering around each other drunkenly before the leader takes a turn; his sound is razor sharp, full of glass shard angles. On his solo, Blostein's alto sax has a contrasting blurry softness with a sense of warmth, while the drums rumble and hiss like some lurking, perilous entity.
On "Koi" Sillery explores the beauty of the ballad, with an inward feeling. The set closes with a rollickingly angular "Intentionality," a headlong blast of high octane that wraps up an excellent modern leap in the leader's musical evolution.