Crowd Theory documents the second outing by Jerry Granelli's Badlands, a group which finds the venerable drummer surrounded by a fiery band of young Brooklynites: reedists Chris Speed, Peter Epstein, and Briggan Krauss, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, keyboardist Jamie Saft, and bassist J. Anthony Granelli. All formidable leaders and composers, these musicians bring to the table technical ability and musical empathy that elevates them far above mere sidemen to equal partners inGranelli's musical vision. The majority of the album is spent expertly treading a line between group improvisation and exacting composition. Many of the tracks find the theme prefaced by an extended improvisation by some or all of the players and extended solos are, as often as not, traded for wild romps demanding full participation of the entire group. Stand-out selections include the title track, by saxophonist Peter Epstein, which opens with a bittersweet melody that the horn section wastes no time in frantically extrapolating upon, before yielding to the composer, who blows a solo both challenging and soulful. Granelli's "Tango is perhaps the most straightforward tune on the record, showcasing a beautiful theme and lyrical solos by Saft and Krauss. J. Anthony Granelli contributes several delightfully playful compositions, especially the pure downtown funk of "Yutz," as the rhythm section grooves hard in 17/4 while the horns blow an agitated off-kilter melody. Ominous tone clusters and quietly menacing cymbals figure prominently in Granelli's "Cloud," which offers some peaceful closure to the wild proceedings of the record. The remarkable coherency of Crowd Theory is clear testament to Granelli's abilities as a bandleader, but make no mistake: this is far from a leader and a gang of competent sideman, but rather a powerful ensemble record.
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AllMusic Review by Tom Benton