Wednesday, May 3, 2017

His daughter said it first: Joe Fiedler's music is "like, strange"

Trombonist Joe Fiedler has expanded his usual trio minimalism to a broader palette with "Like, Strange" (Multiphonics Music),
adding guitarist Pete McCann and saxophonist Jeff Lederer to the group.

Joe Fiedler: Whimsy and sass in quintet packaging
The result is  both prickly and spacious, with a wide range of whimsy and assertiveness now spread over a five-man ensemble. The new band is firmly supported by old-hand Fiedler sidemen Rob Jost, bass, and Michael Sarin, drums. Fiedler is a resourceful composer, unusually sensitive to melody for a player given to skittery, high-register improvisations on the edge.

When this quintet takes on "Yinz," a piece Fiedler specifically designed for free improvisation, he nonetheless provides a satisfying framework in a buzzing, slightly anxious theme that's returned to with gusto from untethered solos.

That's the program-closer here. Fiedler's pieces often take off from the vernacular genres he has spent time with: "Quasi..." signals its roots in boogaloo, with McCann responsible for laying down the groove in that idiom. Fiedler's trombone is witty and savage, and there's some delectable tenor-drums dialogue before the excursion is over.

"Guiro Nuevo" draws on a characteristic Latin-jazz rhythm, with another crunchy dialogue standing tall, his one between Jost and Sarin. The title track picks up on another affinity of the leader  — for early John Scofield. The tune has chunks of space in it. McCann moves into a slightly Scofieldesque sound, then goes way outside in his solo. Fiedler's solo is  particularly lofty, like a pattern of cirrus clouds.

Lederer picks up the soprano saxophone for a change of blend in "A Ladybug in My Notebook." It churns along nicely, then blossoms into bumptious surprise with a wailing McCann solo. The CD's opening track, "Go Get It," prepares the listener for this sort of shock, as it grows into something quite freewheeling.  Lederer shows how simpatico a partner he is in the quintet's front line with a solo that manages to be both wobbly and fierce without becoming incoherent or out of control.

Comfort food is offered on the wide-ranging banquet table with "Maple Avenue Tango," keyed to a nice tenor-trombone unison line, and the episodic "Tuna Fish Cans," with the ensemble tight around the piece's Latin pulse.

When Fiedler's daughter Cleo described his music as "like, strange," she was onto something essential about it. But it's not hard to become fond of strange things when they are put forth with such ingratiating competence as they are here.