Album Review by All About Jazz
Drummer Jeff Sipe was a member of Colonel Bruce Hampton’s Aquarium Rescue Unit and has played with many other musicians. But probably his most visible association was the power trio with Jonas Hellborg and Shawn Lane, followed by a more recent trio with guitarist Alex Machacek. So he is clearly very comfortable in an improvising rock/jazz guitar trio. He says of the format: “The trio format is still exciting to me,” Sipe explains. “It’s very transparent. There is nobody there to lean on—you have to play. You’ve got to be supportive and expressive at the same time. It’s a challenge to play in a way that fills out the sound without grandstanding. It demands that melody, rhythm, and harmony all be active.” Guitarist Mike Seal and bassist Taylor Lee have big shoes to fill in this new trio, but they are completely up to the task.
Sipe emphasizes how important melody is to him, and that is borne out by the singing quality of the material, despite being entirely instrumental. While always technically impressive, these tracks all sound like songs. Many of them clock in at around three minutes long, with the longest track only reaching the six minute mark. Most of the material was written by group members, plus two eclectic cover song choices.
Seal gets the lion’s share of the writing credits. His “Trumpets” opens the set, a start-and-stop theme in bop-flavored funk, which also features a brief pyrotechnic guitar solo.Lee has fewer credits, but his tunes are memorable. “Banana Pudding” (co-written with Jaron Bradley) features call and response between the guitar and bass, and a nimble bass solo. “Lightning Man” is not the speedfest implied by the title: perhaps it refers to the shifting time feel. Sipe contributes one track, the closing “Happy Evil Happy,” a relentlessly driving piece with some evil-sounding electronic effects.
The first of the surprising covers is John Coltrane’s ballad “Naima,” played here at a moderate tempo, over a double-time rhythm section. The tune kind of sneaks up on you, as there’s no suggestion of what’s coming in the opening. Creative as the arrangement is, I found myself wondering how this group would sound playing with a straight swing feel. I have no doubt they would sound great that way: maybe they go there sometimes during live performances? “Home Town” (another Seal original) precedes the cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” with an appropriate country feel. It’s actually played straighter than the famous Williams tune, which begins unaccompanied, joined later by the full rhythm section. It’s the sort of Americana that can’t help but recall Bill Frisell.
A strong debut recording from a group that sounds as if they have been playing together much longer than they have. Their eclectic, contemporary fusion approach fits right in with the rest of the Abstract Logix roster.
Track Listing: Trumpets; Alberta; Banana Pudding; April; Lightning Man; Renee; Naima; Hometown; I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry; Happy Evil Happy.
Personnel: Jeff Sipe, Drums; Mike Seal, Guitar; Taylor Lee, Bass.
Record Label: Abstract Logix