The Wellstone Conspiracy is a collective venture for four of the more prolific jazz musicians residing in the Northwest region of the United States. The group consists of Idaho-based saxophonist Brent Jensen and from Seattle, pianist Bill Anschell, bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop. The quartet, previously heard together on Jensen's One More Mile (Origin, 2008), hits the mark with Motives, a disc full of stunning interplay and individual showmanship.
A highlight of the recording is the opening "Bye Bye Blackwell," Jenson's tribute to the late drummer Ed Blackwell. The tune builds on Johnson's droning double stops and Jenson's lyrical melody with spirited free-form improvising and aggressive drum flourishes from Bishop. Anschell's swinging "Phindango," based on the chord changes to Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance," showcases the pianist's ability to express harmonic sophistication with an inviting warmth. The tune also features one of many exceptional solo spots for Johnson. The bassist shines throughout the recording with a deep-in-the-wood tone and free flowing lines. He is especially poignant on his composition "Portrait," a moving ballad.
Jenson, heard exclusively on soprano saxophone, utilizes subtleness in phrasing his original melodies?the bouncy waltz "Anne Rose" and the quirky "Doop Dee Doop. This same understated approach carries over into his convincing bebop-inspired solos with clever rhythmic variations.
The disc closes with a rather brooding arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's ballad "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing." Here, Anschell uses sparse motifs in his solo to create a kind of floating intensity that signifies the underlying motive of the ensemble; a pervading accessibility with a readiness to move freely beyond convention.