October 19, 2000
There's something percolating in Seattle besides coffee. It's a robust, piquant, blend of jazz that's as characteristic of the region as its scenery. Harder-edged than the laid back California brew south of it, but not as off the wall as some of the new music coming out of Vancouver, B.C. to the north, UNDULATIONS is a perfect definition of what you can expect there.
Spearheaded by bassist Michael Bisio, this CD shows off the talents of accomplished musicians able to go their own way outside the usual jazz media spotlight. We shouldn't make too much of the Northwest singularity, through. Bisio is actually a native of Troy, N.Y., who in Seattle, has worked with such present and past East Coasters as saxophonists Joe McPhee and Charles Gayle and trumpeter Barbara Donald.
A fine composer, who wrote four of the seven tunes here, the bassist is an amiable sort, who is just as happy to "walk" as solo. No showoff, he cultivates a deep, woody tone that makes it quite clear he's playing a doublebass, as he demonstrates at the beginning of Blakeslee's "Give Up the Chair". That Portland, Ore.-based brassman has also been associated with another West Coast iconoclast Vinny Golia. Veteran Nell specializes in half florid/half modal solos — think of McCoy Tyner meeting Sergey Rachmaninoff —, while Pias prefers offbeat patterns to a steady pulse ignoring cymbal hisses and snare hits. Finally Nolet, a frequent Bisio duo partner, plays as if combos featured a viola are an everyday occurrence, letting the fiddle serve the unison frontline function a saxophone would have in a hard bop quintet.
Ear training could be facilitated with this CD. So much is going on at one time that when you start concentrating on any soloist — say Blakeslee's variations in the middle of "Grimes, Henry Grimes", you often get aurally seduced by, for example, the non-standards inventions Pias is coaxing from his hands and feet. And wait, isn't that Randy Weston's "Hi Fly" sneaking on the bass and horns?
No foot tapper, instead the first track, as the title says, undulates. Alive as it is with hearty bass plucks, curving piano explorations, airy flugelhorn lifts, violin scratches and considered drum rolls, the tune manages to be non-standard without falling into the trap of self-conscious experimentation.
A fresh breath of air from the Northwest, this CD shows how musicians outside major jazz centres are subtly extending the tradition, no matter how static certain generational spokesmen want it to remain.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Doesn't Really 2. Golden Blue 3. Give Up the Chair 4. Injury or Malpractice 5. Grimes, Henry Grimes 6. Undulation Song 7. Legends
Personnel: Rob Blakeslee (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn); Jim Nolet (viola); Bob Nell (piano); Michael Bisio (bass); Ed Pias (drums)