Thursday, October 14, 2021

Looks inward in colorful settings characterize Jon Gordon's 'Stranger Than Fiction'


Jon Gordon's sax rides upon arrangements.

Full-canvas coverage by small bands seems to bring Jon Gordon's musical ideas to fruition, if "Stranger Than Fiction" (ArtistShare) is any indication. A set of 10 pieces, a few of them terse, fill a recording in which downward-trending melodies are perked up by animated treatment, keyed to the airy vigor of Gordon's alto saxophone.

The arrangements never wander, and the constituent voices are always clear. Endings are neither overstated nor collapsed into fade-outs, which almost always strike me as the result of indecision.

The opening track is especially arresting, in that it shows how much Gordon's arrangements enjoy laying out instrumental voices: "Pointillism" indicates its link to Georges Seurat's innovation in painting by building a crescendo across the ensemble in which every strand gets prominence before the tempo becomes regular and fast. As in the French master's art, precisely applied dabs of color work together to make a cohesive whole.

Gordon likes heavy bass patterns, as with double bass,  bass clarinet,  and piano sometimes laying down a unison riff and setting the groove.  The leader's agile alto sax rides atop firm but lively foundations. You get the sense that Gordon is always at pains to resist any signs of complacency or standing pat. Yet the vivacity is restrained and may seem lacking in emotional fervor to some.

Gordon's  concern for instrumental independence in ensemble doesn't mean he's stingy with solo space for others than himself. He's particularly generous in allowing pianists Will Bonness and Orrin Evans to shine. But why is there no identification on the jacket of the guitarist who solos so well on "Bella," a tender love song? On the same track, a rare bass solo (by Julian Bradford) is matched as well by a distinctive Evans turn in the spotlight. Notice should also be taken of two fine solos in "Modality": Derrick Gardner's on trumpet and Alan Ferber's on trombone.

The disc ends suitably with "Waking Dream," introduced by hypnotizing harmonies in stately tempo and later highlighted by a searching sax-piano dialogue. The whole piece feels like a tidy coda to a cool, captivating set of midsized-group jazz.

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