Unhinged Sextet's moniker suggests a crew of loons willing to plunge off any creative cliff they encounter, good sense be damned. But Don't Blink
is hardly an album lacking sanity. Rather than forging into previously unexplored territory or shattering long-held compositional paradigms, the combo has crafted a satisfying collection of tunes inspired by taste and intelligence, not madness.
The group's members boast impressive academic credentials: alto saxophonist Will Campbell is director of jazz studies at UNC Charlotte; tenor saxophonist Matt Olson is on faculty at Furman University; trumpeter/flugelhorn player Vern Sielert is a University of Idaho professor; bassist Jon Hamar teaches at Central Washington University; and pianist Michael Kocour is a prof at Arizona State University, where drummer Dom Moio also lectures. But despite their pedagogical bona fides, their latest batch of tunes never comes across as overly studied or staid.
On the title track, the rhythm section starts at a gallop, adding decided zip to a brassy melody and energetic solos by Campbell, Olson and Sielert. "The Swinger and the Saint" dials down the tempo, but not the sass, thanks to its slinky beat and a series of vamps shot through with pure joy. Sielert's beguiling mute work teases out an almost sinister edge on "Low Talk," which speaks to the sextet's range. So does "Purple Lilac," a serving of classical balladry highlighted by a lovely showcase for bassist Hamar, and "Folk Tune," which gives pianist Kocour a chance to shine. And the closing "Sense of Semantics" provides a sturdy summation that would earn high marks from any jazz instructor, including the ones playing it.
Granted, these tracks aren't particularly unhinged. They are, however, well-conceived, solidly constructed and expertly rendered. And that's not crazy at all.