Monday, February 17, 2020

Bass player Max Gerl, heading quartet, salutes Georgian capital in 'Tbilisi'

The Georgian capital is spelled two different ways on the jacket for this
Bass is the place: Max Gerl shows mastery of plugged-in and unplugged kinds.
disc (Dolfin Records), and I chose to go with Tbilisi, which online occurred more than "Tblisi." The three I's have it. 

That's the only conspicuous error in this release on a Dallas-based label. The music inside is engaging. Max Gerl is a bassist of great facility and expressive range, especially on the electric instrument.

 "Tbilisi" as a title tune on this short disc shows off his colleague on tenor sax, Aaron Shaw, in busy dialogue with drummer Mike Mitchell. When it's time for the leader to take the spotlight, his drive and wealth of fast-paced ideas are immediately evident.

Gerl's acoustic bass states the tune of "It Happened to Me" and the piano sits out for a while while the trio fills the room edge to edge a la Ornette Coleman. Paul Cornish makes up for lost time once the piano gets involved.

On "Suntrip,"  Shaw's tenor, whose distinctiveness I admire for the most part, reveals a limitation in tone for this kind of cosmic exploration. He displays a broad sound that suits the piece, but little depth. Three monstrous Coltrane-like dimensions are called for in this sort of thing, and Shaw doesn't command them. 

The finale, "Counter," opens with a short figure introduced by the piano, joined hand-in-glove by the sax; then it settles into a heady pace sustained by the quartet in full cry. There's another fine solo by the leader, his electric bass unfolding phrases in nimble octaves. The pianist picks up on the obsessive nature of the tune's opening figure in his solo. The ensemble restates the head material, and, though I'm normally no fan of fadeouts, resorting to that practice here seems just about right, giving the listener a chance to exhale.

It may be more a matter of taste than a persistent flaw that the recording quality seems acoustically flat and unresonant. There are silences that don't hang in the air naturally, as if the engineer intentionally cut the microphones right after a note's release. Fans of the piano may particularly be aware of its shallowness and lack of tonal bloom. If you adjust your ears to that quality, however, there is much to enjoy musically over the course of this concise program.

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