In 2009, I wrote this review of Garrison Fewel's "Variable Density Sound Orchestra", out of love for the late Roy Campbell's playing. In the meantime, the band released its third album, after "Sound Particle 47", released in 2010. The band is Garrison Fewell on guitar, John Tchicai on tenor and flute, Roy Campbell Jr on trumpet, pocket trumpet and flugelhorn, Steve Swell on trombone, Dmitry Ishenko on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums.
The band's name already suggests some of the music's concept, tightly arranged, almost epic themes are alternated with free and light-textured improvisations, floating above ground in contrast to the strongly tradition rooted themes. The great thing about the music is that all band members feel perfectly comfortable in both environments.
The album is book-ended by "Mystical Realities", a boppish and delightful composition by Steve Swell, for which the theme and the basic vamp offer a great springboard for the improvisers to do their thing, and they do it well, and with joy. It is equally joyful to hear the late Roy Campbell again, in the company of musicians he knew well. I am not sure when this was recorded, but one can only hope that even more material shows up with his soulful playing.
The next track, "Evolving Strategies", is more eery and open-ended, completely in free mode without any recognisable pattern, and it moves into "Return And Breathe", which starts with the same eery concept, with Tchicai on flute, turning into a mid-tempo rhythmic jazzy piece, on which the interaction between Swell and Fewell gets all the spotlights. This track is followed by another light-textured group improvisation in memory of and in tribute to Bill Dixon, that magically ends in a unison theme.
The central piece is "Voyage From Ra", a theme we know well from Fewell's and Tchicai's "Tribal Ghost" album, one of our preferred albums of last year, then called "The Queen Of Ra", a great composition that again allows for some great soloing by Tchicai.
Then comes "Evolving Strategies" again, the same light-textured affair, with sparse sounds, and primarily the horns interacting, with little bursts of support by guitar, bass and drums.
It becomes somewhat denser with the Tchicai composition "Heart Is Only A Part", first released on his "Musica Sacra Nova" album, and then it ends with the epic "Mystical Realities", with Roy Campbell now starring.
And Fewell in all this? He is the silent mover, or rather the quiet mover, more the coach of the band than the leader, guiding his band forward, trusting them in their skills, and using his jazzy licks and harmonic support to increase the depth of the overall sound.
So, the album's mirror-like structure, and the band's shifts through this reflection with changing approaches is really great, you get a journey through jazz history, without too much pretense, and with the absolute joy of interplay and technical skills that are all there to make the music sing.
Great band, great musicians, great music. Enjoy!
Available at Instantjazz.com.