By Paul Acquaro
Trumpeter Ben Holmes' Anvil of The Lord kicks off with the song 'A Doodle for Rhapsody'. It builds slowly while the intertwining lines shared between the trombone and trumpet mix alluringly. The longing melody is of mysterious origin and inspiration.
Thus it makes sense that the elusive mixture of styles and sounds is first foremost in Holmes' own description:
...inspired by things like Czech folklore, poor Amtrak service, the swimming holes of New Jersey, the films of John Carpenter, portentous budget documents from right before the economic collapse, crime reports from the late 19th Century, déjà vu, love, death, taxes, and various other things that might not be apparent since the music is all instrumental...
Throughout, Holmes' trumpet sound is clean and classic, and trombonist Curtis Hasselbring's tone and melodic ideas are quite complimentary. Drummer Vinnie Sperrazza and bassist Matt Pavolka provide perfectly balanced support, whether its lightly swinging like on 'Magic Monday' or driving hard like they do elsewhere.
As for the tunes, and this is a very song oriented album, the aforementioned range of styles makes for an enjoyable listen. For example on the catchy 'Kingston', Holmes' and Hasselbring's solos, after the enjoyably meandering head, are subtly arresting. 'Otesánek' begins with a ginger dance between the horn and drums and soon slides into an ethically tinged melody that you may just feel you 'know' at a subconscious level. The real killer is the title track, 'Anvil of the Lord'. Over its short course, it builds to an exciting climax with seamless transitioning between improvization and composition.
The album has moments of reserved beauty as well as restrained fire. The vibe is relaxed and the playing feels effortless. While it may be less of a listening 'challenge' to some adventurous ears, that aspect is more than offset with enjoyable compositions and lyricality. Overall, Anvil of the Lord is a warm and accessible showcase of musicianship.
You can buy it from instantjazz.com.