Unhinged Sextet is a strong candidate for the best band you'll never hear in a live performance. The members of this cooperative ensemble are spread out across the country, earning their daily bread by training the next generation of musicians, with an emphasis on jazz studies, at various universities. They join forces for brief periods in between other commitments, woodshedding material and recording, before returning to their respective home bases.
George Bernard Shaw's often quoted maxim, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach," is starkly inaccurate in relation to the individuals in the sextet. And when it comes to the music on Don't Blink, so is the word "Unhinged." If only all democratic institutions were able to function as compatibly in pursuit of a common cause. Each one of the sextet's members, save drummer Dom Moio, contributes original material to the disc's eight tracks. A few of this reviewer's favorites include the hushed Middle Eastern flavored vibe of tenor saxophonist Matt Olson's "Low Talk;" bassist Jon Hamar's "Folk Tune," a tightly composed chamber jazz piece which incorporates brief flashes of turbulence within a kind of courtly, formal splendor; and the amiable swagger of pianist Michael Kocour's "Sense of Semantics," a perfect set closer.
Clear-cut, resourceful arrangements that utilize combinations of a front line of Olson, the trumpet and flugelhorn of Vern Sielert, and alto saxophonist Will Campbell, frame catchy, substantive melodies and serve as a point of departure for the soloists. Everyone gets a chance to speak his piece, yet individual efforts never imperil or detract from the music as a whole. Campbell's turn during "The Swinger And The Saint" amounts to densely packed bebop that's free of familiar licks or gratuitous displays of chops. Olson begins a solo on his ballad "Purple Lilac" as if he's reluctantly revealing a secret, and gradually forges a lucid narrative without ever raising his voice. Amidst Moio's nearly inaudible swells and single taps to the cymbals, Kocour's contribution to "Folk Tune" subtly builds suspense while mostly displaying a disarming simplicity. During "Sense Of Semantics," Sielert evinces a real flair for design and raises the solo's temperature by virtue of a slight change of dynamics and the thickening of his tone.
Kocour, Hamar and Moio do an admirable job of inhabiting the arrangements and spurring the soloists. They always know when and how to push the band, lay back, or keep things on an even keel. Check out the way the rhythm section creates a sense of urgency by tightening the beat at the onset of Sielert's "None The Wiser" solo. Or the manner in which they sustain a glacial tempo during Kocour's and Olson's solos throughout the middle of "Folk Tune."
Although catching a couple of sets of Unhinged Sextet in a club or concert hall remains, regrettably, an unlikely scenario, Don't Blink amply demonstrates that this commonwealth of jazzmen play with the spirit, precision, and invention of a working band.