OK, sessions with a healthy dose of improvised music often go off and develop a character of their own, but you've got to wonder if Vinny Golia got what he was aiming for on Against the Grain. It's his first quintet outing in some time and the compositions fall in his more abstract vein with a heavy emphasis on avant-chamber textures. The themes are pretty knotty and severe, but the surprise is that the musicians sound uninspired, with too many sections marked by too much introverted musings and mumbles.
"Abreccio" lifts off with racehorse free improv as Golia spirals through non-stop sopranino sax flurries in the dog whistle frequency zone, and calms down into vaguely Arabic-flavored horn harmonies before a spiky-with-effects-disruptions Cline solo. "Upper Cruster" finds Golia's flurries shifted over to clarinet and joined by Rob Blakeslee's muted trumpet, herky-jerky bass from Ken Filiano, and Billy Mintz's mutant marching drums.
Golia allows himself a few breaths and plays slightly longer notes during his soprano flurries on "SBB-CFF," a welcome afternoon-walk-in-the-park piece with a lighter melody and a slightly more free and easy feel. While the 24-minute opus "Presents to Savages/Alternation" goes on a textural journey, it's a pretty meandering and ultimately inconsequential one with Filiano's arco bass prominent early but Mintz pretty much on stealth drums. Golia's endless flurries hit a saturation point here -- it's the only soloing technique he seems to use on Against the Grain. There's no tonal relief, either, since he's just using his higher-pitched reeds -- even the bass clarinet on "Phantom Bar" makes a beeline for the upper register. But "Two for One (For Dizzy & Rudy P.)" somewhat recovers, staying in a textural mode with a good Blakeslee solo over Cline's ambient electronics. The same soloist/comper combo clicks again on "Turk's Groove," and with Mintz's active chops behind Cline's solo, the piece finally arrives at something like a Miles Davis with John McLaughlin flavor. But Against the Grain just seems out of sync -- none of the musicians are playing at optimum level and even the ensemble sound is unbalanced, with Golia and Filiano the dominant voices. Maybe there was some general malaise that affected everyone that session -- call it part of Vinny Golia's ongoing creative process, but this isn't one of his better discs and Razor is a much better choice for sampling Golia's mid-'90s quintet phase.