Rich Woodson's Ellipsis

Control and Resistance

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Rich Woodson is remarkably adept at blending the influences of 1970s-era Euro-style progressive rock and circa 2000 creative improvisation in Control and Resistance, the debut Cuneiform Records CD by the guitarist/composer's Ellipsis quintet. Like its prog rock antecedents, most of the recording is tightly scored and highly complex, jam-packed with overlapping phrases and tiny solos that draw the listener's attention in many directions at once. Saxes, electric guitar, bass, and drums are constantly entering and departing at unexpected spots. Woodson (a hard rock and heavy metal guitarist before he researched avant-garde jazz and 20th century classical music in the Austin, TX, public library) wrote all the compositions, which are filled with stops, starts, and skewed phrasing. Yet the band somehow maintains a loose flow -- and even features an occasional bit of swing -- suggesting jazz in at least equal measure to rock. Much of the recording's jazz feel is provided by the deep, warm, and resonant acoustic bass of New Zealander Mat Fieldes (a great arco player) and the light, precise touch of drummer John Hollenbeck, leader of the Claudia Quintet. Also remaining comfortably limber while navigating Woodson's convoluted charts are soprano saxophonist Peter Epstein and tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewart, like Hollenbeck valued members of the New York creative jazz scene. And then there is Woodson himself, whose distorted guitar tone (harking back to his heavy metal days?) adds a rough texture and whose brief but fluid runs seem to be everywhere at once. Traditional jazz listeners should still be aware that the expressive possibilities associated with extended jazz solos are usually subverted by Woodson's complex writing throughout Control and Resistance. There are exceptions: On "Only Gravity is Fair" Epstein takes a willowy solo over a slow walking bassline, and he is again placed in the foreground supported by even looser rhythms in "I Remember the Acid Bath." After many dense tracks in the two to three-minute range, the 12-minute "Teargash" finds the band stretching out considerably with ostinatos, subtle muted drum and bass solos, and a soprano sax and arco bass interlude with uncharacteristically lengthy melodic lines. Surprisingly, the quintet slips into a moderate march tempo (with a shifting time signature, of course) as the piece draws to a close. Control and Resistance ends after 43 minutes, somewhat brief by today's standards but crammed with more musical ideas than many CDs in the 70-minute range. Woodson names Tim Berne and Frank Zappa as major influences, and Control and Resistance does conjure up the quintet version of Berne's Bloodcount wending its way through the tortuous score of Zappa's 1986 opus Jazz From Hell. Far from a genre-hopping pastiche, the recording debut of Rich Woodson's Ellipsis sustains an extraordinary flow and seamlessness. Progressive rock and contemporary jazz influences have rarely been joined to form music of such singular identity.

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