Adventure and accessibility, youth and maturity, cool cacophony and brilliant blend. These things need not be at odds, at least not in the hands of the Rich Pellegrin Quintet. Pellegrin, a pianist and visiting assistant professor at the University of Missouri, and his four brothers-in-jazz take listeners on a sojourn through the spaces between seemingly disparate sounds and notions on Three-Part Odyssey,
released earlier this year on OA2 Records.
Pellegrin's band includes some of Seattle's brightest young musicians " R. Scott Morning (trumpet, flugelhorn), Neil Welch (tenor saxophone), Evan Flory-Barnes (bass) and Chris Icasiano (drums). Eight tracks are, of course, split into three sections with members sharing the compositional load " Pellegrin supplies three cuts, Morning pens two, and Welch and Flory-Barnes each contribute one; a piece by famed composer Steve Reich rounds out the set.
Opening cut "Nothing Comes to Mind" is an epic journey in and of itself. The 12-minute tune opens with a pulsating bass line, a sweet, driving beat and sparkling piano runs. Morning, who wrote the piece, and Welch enter with flourishing, singing lines. From there, the track is a beautiful give-and-take as quiet lyricism gives way to progressive, off-kilter melodic action, cascading piano passages rotate around intense harmonic clusters, and bright trumpets cede territory to the skronk and squawk of Welch's saxophone and gain that ground back again.
The second set takes the most risks and, subsequently, offers the most rewards of any section on the record. Welch's "Breathe" is quite possibly the most brilliant cut here, reminiscent of the bold, beautiful sessions that have paired jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and avant-garde pop producer Jon Brion. Pellegrin and Flory-Barnes provide the mood with foreboding, practically Radiohead-esque piano figures and popping bass notes. Legato, languid passages exist within the 12-minute frame as do intense knots of notes and moments of melodic meandering. Welch's schizophrenic sax and Morning's soaring trumpet coda are simply sublime.
Next, Pellegrin's wonderfully weird "Pastiche" segues nicely into a rather brilliant reading of Reich's "Piano Phase." The original was composed for two pianos, both initially playing the same line before one alters their tempo to afford strange moments of overlap and disharmony. Pellegrin lays the primary figure down ably but widens the arrangement, incorporating the full band. With the integration of other players comes intense rhythmic repetition and new, dazzling instrumental colors.
For all the adventure undertaken by Pellegrin and his mates, there are moments of smooth and supple beauty that will no doubt appeal to jazz fans of all tastes. Early on, Flory-Barnes" "Distant, Distorted, You" exists as an indigo-colored gem, making use of wonderful swells and swirls. The closing couplet, "Marruecos" and "Maze," both composed by Pellegrin, inject a sweet sense of tunefulness into the proceedings.
Each member of the band is a superlative player - the propulsive rhythm section hits an elusive sweet spot locking down the groove yet allowing room to roam, driving the pulse while exploring the melodic boundaries of their respective instruments. Morning and Welch are brilliant soloists, yet both are willing to sound off from the shadows, adding harmonic color and constructing formal framework where necessary. Seemingly, Pellegrin has cast a collective vision " the interplay and seamlessness on display is truly remarkable. Throughout, his playing runs both hot and cold, which is not to imply inconsistency. Rather, Pellegrin can alternate effortlessly between smooth passages that suggest the presence of ice water in his veins and dynamic runs that threaten to start an inferno.
There's little, if anything, to pick on here and so much to praise - professional, progressive, melodic, magnificent, Three-Part Odyssey
is a musical excursion worth taking.