Michael Vlatkovich Quartet
You’re Too Dimensional
USA PFMENTUM CD077 CD (2013)
Trombonist and pfMENTUM fixture Michael Vlatkovich maxes his track title word count credit card once more for his umpteenth recorded appearance on that productive, non-profit jazz label. Like the preceding trio recording, Pershing Woman, You’re Too Dimensional finds Michael and a new coterie of cohorts comfortably at sixes and sevens: gracefully stretching and flexing brass limbs across their play space, while avoiding collision at every turn. As stream-of-consciousness as Vlatkovich’s signature composition titles, the group’s regular decelerations to deconstruction speed allow us to examine in detail every ruddy-cheeked interaction. The resulting sky of strangely angled skywriting (and sometimes low-energy fizzle) may not always offer balm to weary souls, but by way of ballast it mostly moves in a rounded rhythmic manner to ensure finger pops remain close to hand. The pace is bouncy, for instance, where ‘Pershing’ left me out of breath. The successful blending of tempos is most successfully sustained through the ten minutes of ‘blue peepers’, which gifts each player with generous solo time, Jim Knodle’s warm trumpet-muting being the stand out element.
I’m not sure as to the extent of Vlatkovich’s role as ‘composer’ though, because notated ‘melody’ seems ever subordinated to melodic mannerism; the ever-reliable Knodle, Phil Sparks (bass) and Greg Campbell (drums, French horn) proceeding through their palette of earthy tones with apparent autonomy. It certainly works to his benefit though that Vlatkovich has kept instrumentation quite conventional, spurring as it does his seasoned players to maximise their performance potential. A violin would have jammed up the works something awful. So all seems well enough, though I’ve gotta say, the 5-minute Photoshop cover does favours for no one, even if it does seem appropriately redolent of west its coast jazz provenance. Pay that bit no mind.
Meets I Dig Monk Tuned
IRELAND DIATRIBE DIACD016 CD (2014)
Like Vlatkovich, Dublin’s palindromic jazz combo ReDiviDer favour both the trombone and word play; the title of the present effort: meets I Dig Monk, Tuned (also from 2013) an anagram, I understand, of ‘United Kingdom’ (home to this record’s quartet of guest musicians). If this tingles my spider senses it’s because such intellectual fixations can sometimes accompany dry composition; an apprehension not entirely thwarted in this case. Indeed, as ‘blends (of) composed and free sections’ go, there’s a continuous and palpable sense of stage management that ever weighs on the group’s capacity for ‘free’ expression. As a result, for every second of polite squawking I sit through, I find myself longing for more of the tidier ‘spy jazz’ notation present in ‘Velvet Pouch’.
Such careful manoeuvring does pay off in tracks such as (the appropriately titled) ‘Bin Saved’, wherein earth and air elements cohere comfortably: Derek Whyte’s briwaxed bass playing providing notably snug berth for one and all. At such times I’m distantly reminded of the sardonic contrivances of the first Lounge Lizards LP, but with the comfort of central heating and interior decoration to soothe and smooth every jagged edge. The ‘Arto’ of this augmented quartet might be the bevy of guest musicians strewn sparingly across the six tracks – each of whom provides necessary condiment to their respective plate – but really it’s the subtle thread of (real time and post-production) electronics, which feature most prominently in the dense, slo-mo fug of ‘Animal Code’: the group mood-swinging into a mode of herd-animal brutishness during a slow phase, re-emerging in a fit of lumpy drumming, double weighted by bitumen-thick atmospherics. Interesting as they are, I’m unsure as to whether such details further date or distinguish these compositions.