Big Blue Line is the third album for Lily White and her group. Working together for more than six years gives her group a respectable pedigree and they are finally getting the attention they have worked hard to attract. While the instrumentation is pretty standard for a small group, the sounds they manage to get out of the tools of the trade entice the listener much like the Sirens tempted Ulysses and his crew in the classic The Odyssey. To their credit, White and her confreres don't try to concoct "different" sounds just to show how clever they are. Everything manages to come together to provide more than an hour's worth of absorbing creative improvisation. The ensemble creates dissonance without distortion and color without cacophony. All of the 12 tunes come from the pens of members of the group, with leader Lily White responsible for most of them. For those who think it is important, the time signatures for the tunes vary throughout. For example, "Hide and Seek" starts off like a march seguing into a rock-based ballad spearheaded by David Phelps' authoritative and commanding guitar. "Cleveland" and "Open" are the closest the group comes to pure "free" jazz, at least as that term used to describe the harmonic musings of Ornette Coleman. But even here, there is enough structure to assure that the group doesn't sound like a bunch of musicians warming up.
One of the more fascinating attractions on the album is Lily White's facility with three members of the saxophone family: the alto, tenor, and the soprano. She can swing the blues as on "Simon" or be cool with a bit of humor thrown in as on "Thelonious Mink," a joint tribute to the master and to Charles Mingus. As one would expect, there are significant overtones of Duke Ellington here to the point that White's alto is quite close to the sound Johnny Hodges established for that instrument. The attractive melody line in this tune and how the group caresses it make it an album highlight.
Many will enjoy the jazz melodies these fine musicians create with their compositions and their performance. This album is recommended.