Mel Graves

Ear Shot: The Music of Mel Graves

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Mel Graves' second album for Thomas Buckner's label, Mutable Music, is a bit disappointing. Day of Love had presented a strong and touching cycle of art songs that exquisitely blended contemporary classical and modern jazz. Its follow-up, Ear Shot, sees the bassist coming back to more mainstream jazz, picking up where he had left in 1999 with Emotion in Motion. These post-bop tunes are elegant and distinguished, but a lot less noticeable. Graves' affection for odd meters (7/4, 11/4) brings to mind Dave Brubeck, although his writing feels a lot smoother, mostly thanks to a certain South American languor in the melodies. The combination of Bob Afifi's flute and beats in three in a few pieces (like "For Bertram") also evoke Moe Koffman. Graves himself takes very little room for a leader, satisfied to work in the shadows, anchoring the pieces with drummer George Marsh, a musician he refers to as his "rhythm section soul mate" in the liner notes. It's easy to understand why; they move around like a four-armed, one-headed creature. Randy Vincent (electric guitar), Al Bent (trombone), Pete Estabrook (trumpet), and Harvey Wainapel (tenor sax) round out the formation. The latter's contribution is, along with Afifi's, the most important. They split melody duties 50/50 and are responsible for most of the music's color: bright and light with the flute, warmer but darker when the sax takes the lead. "Picturing You" and "Time to Push Restart" are highly enjoyable pieces, but in the end Graves' music remains quite conventional for this forward-looking record label.

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