Jim Black / Jim Black's AlasNoAxis

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Well, this is the third album from Black's group AlasNoAxis, and if listeners haven't heard this project before and are coming to it from any of the other projects these players have been associated with, they're likely to be a bit confused. The reason is that despite their chops and their backgrounds, this isn't really a jazz album. It's a rock album, but they use a horn player instead of a singer. Despite what some jazz purists may say, this doesn't make the music any less interesting or less valuable. In fact, if it's taken at face value, without expectations, it's a great album. These players have no problem rocking things up. Despite the lack of actual lyrics, the tunes tell a story and constantly keep the listener engaged. The songs (all composed by Black) are well written, and the band's use and control of dynamics are masterful. Speed's improvising is kept largely in check, instead serving as the main melodic vehicle as the rest of the band guides him through the chord changes. Black clearly thinks of this project as a band vs. a solo effort, and that cooperative sound comes through. And while there are no solos per se, the playing from everyone is excellent (as would be expected), and there are plenty of ear-candy details in the background. More rock than jazz, and not especially "avant-garde," Jim Black & AlasNoAxis have developed a jazz-rock sound (fusion can be such an ugly term) different from the jazz-rock experiments of the '70s or the "downtown sound" of New York in the '80s, not to mention their other projects. These guys are extremely versatile players. Recommended.

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