Walt Blanton

Eight

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This mildly avant-garde post-bop CD has an interesting concept. Eight of the nine pieces have numeric titles -- for example, the first track is titled "One," the second is titled "Two," and so on. The only track that doesn't have a numeric title is track number nine, which is titled "Sonata." Recorded during a visit to New York in 1999, Eight finds Las Vegas resident Walter Blanton taking an inside/outside approach and forming an acoustic quintet with Bill Mays (piano), Jim Pugh (trombone), Martin Wind (contrabass), and Dennis Mackrel (drums). The performances are more inside than outside, but the material is still abstract and cerebral -- Eight isn't for those who might expect to hear something that recalls Blanton's work with the Woody Herman band in the early '70s. Instead, this album finds Blanton (who is heard on cornet, trumpet, and flugelhorn) drawing on influences that range from Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane to Thelonious Monk and mid-'60s Miles Davis. Eight isn't an album of atonal chaos -- it isn't as extreme or as far to the left as the blistering free jazz of Albert Ayler or Charles Gayle -- but it isn't '50s-style hard bop either. When Blanton is being influenced by Coltrane, he isn't thinking of the atonal, post-McCoy Tyner experiments that came during the last few years of the sax icon's life -- he is thinking of Coltrane in the early to mid-'60s, when Tyner was still on board. The bottom line is that on Eight, Blanton keeps his options open. He demonstrates that jazz doesn't have to have an "either/or" mentality; Blanton ventures outside when he feels like it and he swings when he feels like it. He also provides an album that is inviting if you have a taste for post-bop that is mildly avant-garde and highly intellectual.