Whatever was JazzTimes thinking? Their online reader’s poll didn’t even list bassist Matt Brewer as an option. No matter that he’s one of the premier young bassists in the world, who’s toured and/or recorded with such
luminaries as Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Antonio Sanchez, Greg Osby, and Steve Coleman, among others. Never mind that he was a top-three finalist in the Thelonious Monk competition. Forget that he released his first
album as a leader this year. Well, let’s not forget it, since Mythology (Criss Cross Jazz) is an
impressive collection of seven Brewer originals plus one from Ornette Coleman, all delivered with an astute “less is more” approach by Brewer and his first-call colleagues: Mark Turner (tenor), Steve Lehman (alto), Lage Lund (guitar), David Virelles (piano), and Marcus Gilmore (drums).
Brewer’s mastery—though he would never call it that—of the bass is on display throughout. His melodic/harmonic choices and the richness of his tone have always captured my ear, and is there anyone who articulates more cleanly on that ponderous bear of an instrument? It doesn’t hurt that he’s nimble as a cat and, as needed, as ferocious as a tiger. But what’s most striking almost immediately on this album is Brewer’s sure and subtle rhythmic sense. With what seems like minimal effort—the way he holds a tone or cuts it short—he delivers rhythmic impulses that are as powerful as they are unobtrusive, carving space and slicing time to his specifications.
Brewer’s playing always serves the music, and it is for its benefit alone that he exercises his
virtuosity—with a monk’s intensity. It’s unlikely he would even know how to showboat, and his colleagues bring the same attitude to the project.
The seven originals take an introspective turn. It’s a fluid musical universe, awash in liquid sound, and while the surface is largely unbroken, the subaquatic churn of Brewer’s bass and Gilmore’s drums keep pushing the music forward. (With the drums quite low in the mix, Gilmore’s kinetic attack seldom intrudes on the smooth surface but adds a strong rhythmic propulsion.)
Water comes most obviously to the fore on “Moorings,” inspired by those floating devices to which boats are attached, as noted in the informative liner notes by David R. Adler. Brewer’s
repeated broken chords capture the buoyant bobbing in place, and the changes in time
signature recall the shifting conditions of wind and current. Most every composition is graced with liquid compositional lines, subject to the gravitational pull of bass and drums. On “Sun Symbol,” though, it feels more like the inexorable slow-motion flow of searing lava, underscored by Virelles’ dark and unhurried solo and Lund’s singing strings.
Lehman and Turner deliver what you expect from them: the unexpected. Lehman’s staccato
attack contrasts beautifully with Turner’s roundness, and where the alto runs at the tunes head on, the tenor tends to play on the edges of the frame. They burn in celebration on Coleman’s “Free,” and their duo work on “Fighting Windmills” is especially illuminating. On “Joya,” whose opening melody moves from the dark to an unexpected and welcome light, Turner’s floating solo roams all over the repeating figures on piano and guitar, going in and out of frame but
never losing sight of it. Lehman snowboards through the title track, described by Brewer as “a Steve Lehman concerto,” in an ever-widening spiral. Both saxophonists understand that it’s not how many notes you play, but what you put into those notes, whatever their number. The
microtonal bends that Lehman introduces in his “Mythology” solo are a case in point.
Brewer takes a painterly approach in his writing, emphasizing texture and color and balancing his broad compositional brushstrokes with close attention to sonic and rhythmic detail. The
music comes from the heart, and that same organ illuminates the performances.
© 2014 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.