Neil Welch

Narmada

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Seattle is not only the city that gave listeners Nirvana, Heart, Pearl Jam, Hole, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney -- it is also a city that has had a lot of jazz activity over the years. One of the many improvisers who has been active in Seattle is tenor/soprano saxophonist Neil Welch, whose first album as a leader, Narmada, often underscores his obsession with John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders (with hints of Gato Barbieri at times). Most of the material is acoustic-oriented post-bop, although Narmada occasionally detours into electric fusion territory. There are times when Narmada is quite reminiscent of Coltrane's modal period of the early to mid-'60s; anyone who listened to "The Search," "Neptune," or "Darker" without hearing other parts of this 72-minute CD could easily be led to believe that Welch was simply content to emulate Coltrane's work with pianist McCoy Tyner -- especially in light of the Tyner-ish moves that pianist Brian Kinsella makes on those selections. But Welch shows some diversity on "Raga Kirwani" (a traditional Hindustani raga) and the title track, both of which feature sitar player Pandit Debi Prasad Chatterjee and offer a hypnotic blend of jazz and Indian classical music. And Welch sounds perfectly comfortable with fusion on an intriguing arrangement of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android," which lends itself nicely to an instrumental jazz-rock makeover. There is no denying that Welch is a highly derivative player, but he definitely has chops -- and despite its shortcomings, Narmada has enough positives to make the listener want to keep an eye on Welch and see how he develops.

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