Las Vegas is hardly the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of avant-garde jazz -- -New York, Chicago, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Boston are all known for their contributions to jazz's avant-garde, but not Las Vegas. Nonetheless, Vegas is where trumpeter/cornetist/flügelhornist Walter Blanton has, since 1975, been leading a mildly avant-garde jazz group called Dharma. Blanton doesn't lead Dharma on a full-time basis; he pays his bills by working in Vegas' showrooms, and Dharma is among his side projects. Recorded in 1997 and 1998, this CD paints an attractive picture of Blanton's band. Voyage From the Past is not an album of atonal chaos; rather, Blanton and his colleagues (who include, among others, alto saxophonist Phil Wigfall, tenor saxophonist Marc Solis, pianist Stefan Karlsson, and drummer Roy James) favor an inside/outside approach and draw on influences that range from Ornette Coleman's free jazz breakthroughs to the early-'60s post-bop of Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane. Although Dharma interprets two Coleman tunes ("Una Muy Bonita" and "Lorraine"), most of the material was written by Blanton himself -- and he shows himself to be a thoughtful, intelligent composer on pieces that range from the moody "Bent Boogie" to the quirky "Roy's Toys" and the Indian-tinged "Torpedo Junction" (as opposed to "Tuxedo Junction"). Meanwhile, "Blackwell Street Boogie" is an abstract yet funky piece that was named after drummer Ed Blackwell, who was among Coleman's sidemen in the early '60s. Again, Voyage From the Past isn't about atonal screaming for the sake of atonal screaming; the material, although slightly left-of-center, is relatively melodic. And this CD makes you wish that Blanton's Dharma wasn't so obscure.
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