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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ben Thomas - Endless Mountain Region (Lungbasket, 2012) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Bassist Ben Thomas is a recent arrival to the jazz scene in NYC, prior to which he was active in upstate New York and a graduate of the Eastman School of Music. The trio that he directs on Endless Mountain Region is saxophonist Tony Malaby and percussionist Aaron Staebell.

Endless Mountain Regions works in between the lines of free and composed music. The opening song, 'Longshot', gets the album going on vigorous path. The cast is set here with Malaby's warm but egdy tone, Thomas' full sounding and imaginative bass playing, and Staebell's driving and somewhat unpredictable percussion. The trio covers a huge range, playing exciting runs and using space and volume quite effectively.

The 11 minute plus 'Elephant in Labor' kicks off with some acoustic ambiance and light instrumental mayhem but soon segues into a free and evocative tune with a melody that at moments delves into Ayler territory as the group introduces some well intentioned mayhem into the mix. The melodica is used to interesting effect on 'Two and a Half Hours' where the sax and the tiny instrument duet. When Staebell goes back to the kit, the song opens up, building up to a fine climax with extended melodic lines and a strong rock beat. The closing song 'WRU' is a uptempo Ornette Coleman piece with an coolly syncopated melody. The interplay between the three musicians is top notch, Aaron Staebell percussion a persistent rumble and presence, while Thomas delivers a short but effective solo.

This is an excellent listen, well paced and well thought out, the quieter and more delicate moments draw you in and contrast deliciously with the powerful blasts of improvisation and rock solid interactions.