Despite its name, the Unhinged Sextet plays solidly bop-based and accessible music. At least that's what it does on its engaging and delectable debut Clarity
. The elements that make this album stand out of the crowd of mainstream releases are the memorable compositions and the smooth synergy among the members of this collaborative group. The latter endows their collective sound with a delightfully orchestral quality. Altoist Will Campbell penned the exquisite and languid "Leaving Soon." The shimmering ballad features his resonant serpentine lines meandering within the ensemble's densely textured and expansive harmonies. Campbell and tenorist Matt Olson have winning chemistry together as their complementary styles demonstrate on Campbell's intimate and lilting "Las Palmas." The composer's acerbic, muscular tone is the perfect foil for Olson's, thick and breathy one, as the two engage in a crisp and clever dialogue. Pianist Michael Kocour lets loose a cool cascade of chords that contrast thrillingly with the band's warm, flowing refrains.
Kocour exhibits western classical influences with his intelligent and inventive improvisation on the title track, an original by the bassist Jon Hamar. A subtle poeti sense marks the melody that trumpeter Vern Sielert mellow, silvery threads weave around main theme. Olson's deep soulful phrases add a dramatic flair to the tune. Olson tears through Sielert's own "Watch Out of the Way" with bravado and Kocour, contributes his fiery pianism to this simmering ebullient brew. Drummer Dom Moio's thunderous solo ushers in the exciting conclusion. Moio's pulsatile and percolating beats drive Olson's passionate "Scout, No Doubt." The members of the frontline alternate intriguing spontaneous phrases that emerge from the easy swinging backdrop. Hamar's sublimely pizzicato steals the spotlight on this Latin-esque piece. Even though nothing terrribly innovative or groundbreaking happens on Clarity
, the elegant performances and the imaginative writing make for a cohesive and uniformly enjoyable listening experience. Unhinged Sextet may not be far left-of-center but they do create sophisticated and charming jazz that also has much-needed common touch.