Review: Eugene Ball 4tet – Hi(gh) Curious

EugeAt this point in jazz, nothing should surprise us. For about a century – give or take a few years – we’ve been exposed to practically all styles, sub-genre fusions, rhythmic, harmonic and melodic interactions, arrangements and band formations. It’s been almost 55 years since Gerry Mulligan first formed a “pianoless” quartet, so any similar arrangements should come as news to no one. And  yet, there is something unique and refreshing in Eugene Ball‘s equally pianoless quartet, with himself on the trumpet, James Macauley on trombone, Mick Meagher on bass and James McLean on drums. It may be the interaction between the two horns, as they fly up in the air, or the way Meagher and McLean create a weighty anchor to the band, keeping it firmly on the ground. It might be the clever arrangements that offer a wonderfully rich sonar texture, with the electric bass gaining a prominent role. It certainly has to do with the urgency of the playing that makes each song a small adventure. But in the end, it amounts to a set of spectacular tunes, like those that comprise the quartet’s debut album, ‘Hi(gh) Curious‘. ‘Spectacular’ is an understatement, when it comes to songs such as the album’s opener, ‘P is for Pumpkin’, an instant genre-bending classic that should find a place on the set lists of all Australian bands – especially the punk-rock ones. All songs in the album are performed with the same electrifying intensity, from the most high-energy compositions to the contemplative interpretations of standards, as is the case with ‘You’re my thrill’, which is deconstructed almost to dissolution. You can almost feel the tune dripping onto your skin, entering your body, running through your veins and coming out of your pores. The one that I keep coming back to is the track that gave its name to the album, which always manages to leave me in a state of haze. Please don’t wake me up.

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