Chris Kelsey

Wishing You Were Here

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As Robert Rusch stresses in his notes to the album, Chris Kelsey is one intense performer. His playing might also be described as self-confident and bold: whatever the velocity or volume, he focuses on his performances with unbridled directness, perhaps influenced by his Oklahoma roots. Kelsey has developed a distinctive voice on soprano sax, one that is more aggressive than that of most modern performers on the instrument. The album opens with "Jam Session," the longest track, on which Kelsey jumps from the starting gate with characteristic zeal, while Jay Rosen, fresh from a solo project and more exuberant than usual, is inspired by Kelsey's performance. Here, as throughout the recording, the saxophonist leaves no doubt who is in charge, spitting out streams of notes like cascading waterfalls. While subtlety may not be Kelsey's middle name, his blowing is so electrified that even when he drops the volume halfway through the opener, he barely pauses for breath. He composed all the pieces, which are often quirky post-bop lines used as springboards for improvisation. Clearly indebted to Coltrane, Kelsey shares the same extraordinary ability to endlessly create variations and permutations on a theme, percussively pouncing on, even crushing, clusters of notes like a giant boa squeezing its prey, leaving no prisoners. At times, as on portions of "Truculent," it is hard to imagine how he manages to think so fast, as he winds around unknown corners at lightning speed without losing control. Francois Grillot's acoustic bass often seems relegated to providing a harmonic underpinning, a background presence, but when he comes out swinging, as on "Truculent," where on a small section he and the saxophonist spar, the depth of Grillot's playing comes to the fore. While Kelsey's solos are sometimes overwhelming in their complexity, he is such a powerful presence that the music always swings with forceful momentum, leaving the listener exhausted, but satisfied.

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