I heard Slumgum on Jason Crane's Jazz Session a few weeks ago and was immediately struck by what seemed an interesting group and so when the CD arrived on our review list I immediately jumped at the chance to write about them. However as you see with the 3 stars it was rather a disappointment, or probably I could say frustrating. This is a difficult album to rate and somehow the 3 stars I give it seems miserly in comparison to the work put into the making of the music. However, it seems that the group has been a little over ambitious in trying to include too much material, and to my tastes it distracts from what could be a excellent album.
The albums basic make-up if my ears (and imagination) hear correctly is - an improvised track, followed by a composed piece, improvised piece, composed piece, etc. Unfortunately from my point of view it just doesn't work and the energy that is there is often dissipated just at the moment it's needed - due to this programming idea. Odd numbered (improvised?) tracks 1, 3, 5 etc are probably fun to play/record but seem disconnected from the core of the album, making the listener loose interest, or in my case become confused as to what was actually going on. The confusion for me is that the composed tracks 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 are all very strong - I would even say EXCELLENT - compositions with some fantastic playing and soloing. The musicians are excellent throughout, everyone playing an equal role, somehow unusual in these times.
Composed (?) Tracks :
These five tracks have great architectural structures of there own with beautiful themes, melodic twists and turns that at times become free improvisations or remain within their original framework. I really loved the grooves created by these tunes 'Hancho Pancho' an almost heavy rocking piece with a great sax and rhythm section workout making you think of Paul Dunmall or Evan Parker let loose on a rock band. TK 4 'Eshu's Trick'(9:12) develops from wonderful 12/4 limping bass line that the group combines with fender-rhodes in an almost Soft Machine-esque way. Here the group lets it's hair down building up around the rhythm in a powerful way to an exciting conclusion. 'Afternoon' (Tk 6) is a lovely ballad and features a nice bass workout. The title track Tk9 is another wonderful piece with many sections and melodies to discover. Tk 10 'Puce over Pumkin ...' is another interesting thought out piece that gently swings, changes time, and generally gives space to all members of the group to solo.
Alternative (?) tracks :
Most of the tracks here have a beginning but often don't develop from there. Track 3 'Big Fun' is however a wonderful rhythmic piece that builds up over 2:50. The loose theme gradually moves from a quasi Latin groove, building with glorious funk and powerful energy, finally returning to the tight Latin feel. The last track 'Big Fun (The Bellows)' makes one curious to hear what could be developed from these improvised sections.
Rather a long review for 3 stars? I think it's worth it and I'll certainly be checking out their first release as what I hear here is a group well worth discovering.
Slumgum is: Jon Armstrong: Tenor Sax, Rory Cowal: Piano, Dave Tranchina: Bass, Trevor Anderies: Drums.