|Do the math: Juilliard graduate and deep thinker Tom Guarna|
Probably in mid-career (he was born in 1967), Guarna has had ample time to develop his own style as both player and composer. In "Spirit Science," he has compatible colleagues in saxophonist Ben Wendel, keyboardist Aaron Parks, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Justin Faulkner.
I like the centered, lyrical quality of Parks (former Cole Porter Fellow of the American Pianists Association) throughout, sometimes acting as a calming influence on Wendel. Assertive and slightly raspy, the saxophonist also has a lyrical bent, his plaintive sound resembling an anxious Jan Garbarek. Guarna's most outstanding quality as performer is his compatibility, as he unobtrusively helms ensemble concepts that are flowing and well-integrated. He's a bandleader-composer who seems to put collegiality uppermost.
Guarna's compositions grow out of his immersion in places "where math and science meet with spirit and matter." Sometimes the works are understandably more notable for their phrase structure ("Two Circles") and well-woven textures ("The Genesis Pattern") than their melodies, but this breadth suits the ambitious reach of "Spirit Science." Motivic strength is sometimes a good stand-in for melodic distinction, as in "Metatron's Cube."
The deep sources Guarna's muse draws upon will not be accessible to everyone, but the music that has resulted rewards the attention, and can be sufficiently appreciated on a surface level as well as on one equal to his scrupulous study.