Russ Johnson / The Other Quartet / Ohad Talmor

13 Pieces

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With a quintessential New York downtown sound, The Other Quartet performs creative music that is not limited by the stylistic conventions of traditional jazz. They can groove with the best of them, but do not feel the need to establish their credentials by swinging throughout this debut recording. The choice of material announces the group's offbeat intentions -- originals mingled with interpretations of works by composers Elliott Carter, Igor Stravinsky, and even Anton Bruckner, rather than icons of the jazz world. There is no bassist, and the group makes the most of its instrumentation by writing in an often contrapuntal style, alternatingly funky, playful, and atmospheric, which deepens and enlarges the collective sound while highlighting each musician's individual voice. The foursome could be likened to the Dave Douglas Tiny Bell Trio plus saxophone or Human Feel with trumpet and sax rather than two reeds in the front line. In particular, trumpeter Russ Johnson's concentration on the middle register, effortless intervallic leaps, skilled navigation of chromatic runs, and vocal expressiveness invite comparison to Douglas. Israeli-Swiss Ohad Talmor doubles on tenor and soprano saxophones; on tenor he is a robust player who, like fellow New Yorker Chris Speed, also expresses a gentle pathos during many of the quieter moments. Guitarist Jim Hershman, interspersing a clean jazz tone with bursts of rough distortion and other selectively employed sonic effects, recalls Kurt Rosenwinkel before the latter began recording for Verve, apparently lost his nerve, and turned middle-of-the-road mellow. Of course, drummer Michael Sarin is an expert at navigating downtown NYC territory, a veteran of similarly inclined groups like the Thomas Chapin Trio, Dave Douglas String Group, and Myra Melford's The Same River, Twice. His percussive approach serves the music well -- always clean and never brash or overpowering. 13 Pieces is a bold new entry into the pantheon of recordings by young New York creative improvisers. The individual musicians may borrow a bit from the styles of others, but The Other Quartet has a highly original compositional sense and seems destined to leave its own unique imprint on downtown music if future recordings are as strong as this one.

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