Rob Reddy's Gift Horse

A Hundred Jumping Devils

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The cover photo of Luca Signorelli's famous painting The Damned in Hell gives a graphic indication of the music saxophonist Rob Reddy has conjured. Reddy is playing with a sextet he has dubbed Gift Horse (the saxophonist changes the name of his group with every project), and his fifth effort as a leader straddles progressive, contemporary, and composed music with meaty solos and a chamber music concept that centers the music squarely. Reddy plays mostly soprano saxophone (he is a disciple of Dave Liebman) in a compressed and controlled tone that pierces the music with a signature sound unique unto itself. The tonality between Reddy, violinist Charles Burnham, French horn player Mark Taylor, and guitarist Brandon Ross is arresting to say the least, and emphasizes the high octave range of the instruments in an operatic, singing fashion. But aside from the original sound quality is the music, which is quite witty, complex within its layering, and very demanding on the players, who more than succeed in doing it justice. The 11/8 time signature "The Unnamable" is a track for the ages, a high-octane dialogue of epic proportions brimming with fresh ideas, a Latin underpinning from percussionist Mino Cinelu, and a key change the second time through on the melody line. Just as striking, "Ó-Brasil" is formed from a path of shout-out phrases setting up a series of single notes strung together, then played together. Three meters of 6/8 unison motifs inform the third outstanding track, "Abraham," with a smoother mindset established by the modal bass playing of Dom Richards. Reddy, Burnham, Taylor, and Ross think alike and sound blended, but when they take off on solos or alternate lines, they still sound united in purpose. The anthemic, British-sounding "Procession," improv ballad "Gabriel's New Horn," Latin-flavored, heavier, and darker near march title track, and short violin-traced "Solipsism" are the pieces that have a Baroque or early music feel to them. At times similar to the work of Bill Frisell, whether playing acoustic or electric guitar, Ross adds a folkish feeling, most directly demonstrated during "Mark of Sincerity" with Reddy on alto sax. For progressive music listeners, this is as heady, advanced, and forward-thinking a music as there is on the contemporary scene. Reddy deserves much credit for enabling himself to push the envelope in presenting a music with such distinct elements of ancient precepts and modernistic devices.

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