Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ball State jazz professor Scott Routenberg issues a fetching trio CD

Scott Routenberg
The "shuffle" button on any CD player I've owned goes untouched. With recordings, I'm pretty much a stickler for the chosen order, just as I am with books of short stories or volumes of poetry. I figured the authors (and people they trust, or editors who are paid to be trusted), have a reason for a particular order and believe that the work of art they are delivering is best appreciated in that order. The same with jazz CDs; with classical CDs, it's out of the question that multi-movement compositions should ever be subjected to "shuffle."

So, I must enter a quibble about the track order, and (in the case of one piece) even the inclusion of a particular track, of Scott Routenberg's excellent CD "Every End Is a Beginning" (Summit Records). The Ball State University professor has released here the work of his current trio, including drummer Cassius Goens III and bassist Nick Tucker, and  in every sense  I can recommend it heartily.

If explicit dedications to family members can be illuminating, I would like to have heard "Polyglot," a tribute to his multilingual wife, open the CD.  Its four cycling chords frame a lot of variety, including choruses in which a driving tempo is relieved by four-to-the-bar swing. It's the sort of piece that one can clearly see enfolds the complexities of one's life partner. And "Polyglot" is a fine introduction to the rapport of this quartet. I say this even though the coda, with bass and piano in a repeating frame of mind as Goens' drums drive mightily forward, seems too long. But it would be easier to take this as the opening track than it is in second place, where it rubs shoulders with the also relentless "Melt." The latter is a different kind of composition, more explicitly blues-based, but I'd like to hear it separated from "Polyglot."

That's why I think "Florian," dedicated to the composer's son, with its affectionate mood and simple high-register lyricism, would have been perfect in second place on the CD. "Polyglot" would make for a better introduction to this able group.

From that point comes a parade of pieces whose order is unexceptionable, notably the title track with its amiable, countryesque feeling and the elaborately "clocky" "Tempus Fugit." This is very adept trio playing, and writing that suits the personnel. As the disc moves toward its second half, there are some very striking pieces. The glinting verve of "Seven Shooting Stars," a good example of a fast tune with a stop-start theme that allows all three musicians place a premium on nimbleness, is capped by another one of those codas, but variations in the piano riff make the addenda seem more directed toward a goal.

Then comes "Embrace," just about perfect as a representation of ballad playing for piano trio. With Goens' sympathetic brushwork and a Tucker solo one would like to put in a gold frame, Routenberg spins out long, logical phrases with plenty of emotional impact behind them. The performance has a transparent, spacious quality. These musicians sound supremely patient with the material and with each other.

By reading the program notes, I gathered that two tracks away — ending the disc — was another ballad. "'White Veil' will have to be awfully good not to be overshadowed by 'Embrace," I said to myself. Well, it isn't, and I've listened to it a couple of times. It seems kind of "afterthoughty." It drifts pleasantly enough and has characteristic Routenberg touches, the kind of mulling over that allows all manner of prettiness to be mounted upon it.

The piece that comes in between — Bj√∂rk's "Joga"—  is a wholly successful jazz appropriation of a modern pop tune. I like the richness of the patterning from all three players, especially Goens' drumming, which sounds roughly as if tissue paper had been placed on the heads. This choice and its arrangement amounts to an arresting departure that works well.

To sum up about track order: Either "Embrace" or "Joga" would have made a great ending to "Every End Is a Beginning." But maybe I ought to muse on that title some more.  For the time being, though, "White Veil" tempts me to hit that "shuffle" button to see if I could enjoy it more someplace else in the program. Otherwise, I will just have to get used to the given order, and the completeness, of what the Scott Routenberg Trio has provided.