On This Day (Jazzhead Records)
Reviewed by John Shand
You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs goes the saying, and the eggs that have gone into this Omelette are of two varieties: a love of grooves and a love of more ethereal improvisation. Setting the band apart is its occasional ability to whisk these two together. This has also been a defining attribute of guitarist Stephen Magnusson across the years, and here trombonist Jordan Murray, bassist Mark Shepherd and drummer Ronny Ferella prove they share these preoccupations on nine collectively-penned compositions.
Not collective improvisations, you understand: at the very least some sort of sketch is always in place to launch the blowing, but these compositional ideas seem to unlock options rather than close them down. On ‘Astral’, for instance, the band gives itself over entirely to the ethereal, largely predicated on an otherworldly guitar effect that Magnusson has found. But from that launch-pad the improvisation keeps opening up new vistas of deep-space exploration in a way that is not unlike the Necks, and that could easily have sustained more than its eight-minute duration.
Yet you would never guess such diaphanous beauty was on the way when Shepherd launches into the pile-driving bass riff that underpins the opening ‘One For Four’. He and Ferella make this groove buck and swagger, while Magnusson carves it up with a cross-current of chords, and Murray smears the surface with a graffiti of New Orleans-like plunger-mute trombone slurs.
‘Esteban’ provides the first indication that grooving and daintiness can inhabit the same zone, with Ferella keeping the enunciation of the beat airy, so it buoys the pensive trombone. ‘There You Have’ it is chunkier, and more of a four-way dialogue that intensifies without anyone trampling over what another has to say. After ‘Astral’, ‘Trench Coat’ rushes back into meaty bass-riff territory, this time carrying echoes of the sort of open blowing Miles Davis encouraged about 45 years ago. The amusingly titled ‘Paris-Texas-Coburgistan’ is more exotic, the trombone now haunting, while Magnusson constantly dances between embellishing the rhythm section and engaging in a dialogue with Murray.
On ‘Jimmy Can Jump’ Shepherd and Ferella are almost child-like in the way they shape a groove out of modular building-blocks of rhythm. The trombone and guitar jump on for a ride that again references Miles, the highlight being the intersections between Murray’s glissandi and Magnusson’s bent notes. ‘Temporal Slave’ seems ironically titled because it actually begins in free time; an improvisation made cohesive by the collective creation of a sense of foreboding. Ferella does end up injecting a groove, but the piece was quite capable of maintaining interest without. The closing ‘You What?’ is the least distinctive piece on an album that may nod to Miles circa 1970 overly much, but that still charms with its warmth and bursts of stunning originality.
Jordan Murray – trombone
Stephen Magnusson – guitar
Mark Shepherd – bass
Ronny Ferella – drums
Listen and purchase
On This Day on Jazzhead Records www.jazzhead.com/onthisday