| PJ Rasmussen “Adventures In Flight” (Third Freedom Music 1001) Street Date June 4, 2013
PJ Rasmussen-guitar, Steve Johns-drums, Adrian Moring-bass, Chris Pattishall-piano, Nate Giroux-tenor saxophone, Danny Reyes-trumpet & flugelhorn, Kelly Green-vocals
A debut album is a daunting experience for any artist regardless of age. But guitarist/composer PJ Rasmussen’s first CD – Adventures in Flight on Third Freedom Music – shows a young man brimming with musical confidence and leadership qualities of a seasoned professional. A truly outstanding composer, PJ has assembled a remarkable sextet for a highly diverse, but totally cohesive set of Rasmussen originals.
Over the past 25 years, many artists have tried to re-create the substance of the classic 1960’s Blue Note era. But what is usually missed is that the music of that era was utterly entrenched in the times it was created – an essential component of the Jazz tradition. While PJ and his cohorts have feet solidly planted in that legacy, the music on this CD is vividly contemporary.
Born in 1990, PJ cut his musical teeth on the rock and blues spirit of men like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and has brought his love of those forms to his serious commitment to Jazz. Combining these elements into a unified musical vision has resulted in carrying that timeless Blue Note recipe of funky hard-bop, soulful lyricism, passionate swing and innovative exploration smack dab into 2013.
With one exception, all of the musicians are contemporaries of the guitarist; and that is the remarkable drummer Steve Johns, whose experience and mastery of a wide variety of styles contributes heavily to the unified thrust of this album. All of the other musicians – tenor saxophonist Nate Giroux, Danny Reyes on trumpet and flugelhorn, Chris Pattishall on piano and Adrian Moring on bass – are superb, performing with youthful vigor and with a sense of urgency that has become increasingly rare. A most surprising element is that this group, after only a few rehearsals, sounds like an ensemble that has been performing together for years, particularly highlighted by the seamless interplay and nearly telepathic interaction between Moring and Johns, who anchor each track emphatically.
A major element of the success of this album is the extraordinary compositional skill of Rasmussen. Eschewing the complex harmonics and rapidly jagged unison lines that young composers often employ to demonstrate compositional and performing virtuosity, PJ strives for lyricism, rhythmic variety and depth of mood, offering both the opportunity for rich musical exploration and the adventurousness of innovative excitement. Each composition is fully thought out and the music is well-planned, but still open enough for the elements of surprise and spontaneity that are essential to the best Jazz expositions. The arrangements are finely crafted to fit both the compositional structure and the musicians who play them. And two of the pieces, Waxing and Wayne-ing and At Long Last have the added spice of the lovely voice of Kelly Green wordlessly enhancing the melodic line.
As a guitarist, Rasmussen is a musician of exceptional skills and has full command of a variety of genres. His solos roar, rock, blaze and swing, as the music demands. He shares the solo space primarily with tenorman Giroux and pianist Pattishall. Giroux is a muscular, passionate saxophonist with chops to burn; Pattishall is also an excellent musician whose accompaniment and solos are always ideally suited to the circumstances. Their versatility matches Rasmussen’s as they are fully comfortable with the full palette of styles.
The album opens with a brief poem – an effective idea that is used twice more to further clarify the message of the album – introducing Avionics, a syncopated driver with a light airy theme in the classic hard bop mode, featuring a fluid, articulate single note guitar solo, a fiery tenor solo in the early Joe Henderson urgency mode, exciting piano and a riff-driven drum solo – all over propulsive bass. Similar territory is explored in Waxing and Wayne-ing, but in an edgier groove. Dedicated to Wayne Shorter, there is considerable homage to the Classic Quartet of the magnificent John Coltrane as well. Opening with a McCoy Tyner-ish vamp, the piece is powered by the pianist’s forceful left hand, both in his solo and driving the rhythm section. PJ offers a swirling solo, sometimes sailing over the rhythm, sometimes in rhythmic counterpoint; while Nate’s tenor is in an appropriate Shorter mode – lyrical and masterful.
The funk groove is embraced in three distinct variations. Baden Hill is a punchy hip-hoppish affair built on a fractured backbeat rhythm with vocal-burst tenor, a highly percussive piano solo and a soulful guitar turn that evokes that delicious Grant Green aura – all stoked by a richly chugging Soul Train motion of the bass and drums. Sunday Driver features a jagged upwardly spiraling melody over a lurching, staggering funk bottom that generates a palpable tension, launching a funkily wailing tenor; exciting, sardonically witty guitar that shows off PJ’s rock chops; and a brilliant drum solo – all mightily charged by amazing support from Pattishall. A complex, adventurous and always smoking piece, Kickin’ the Can drives on a straightforward rocking funk groove. PJ works that soul Jazz thing with tantalizing bent chords and smears of sound. Pattishall funks out in Bobby Timmons-like Gospel mode and some two-handed chords a la Red Garland. Extremely acid Jazz tenor – punchy, dancing and crying – pushes the intensity meter, all making this a joyous celebration.
Jubilation is also the theme of Stolen Miracles. An up-and-down-the-ladder theme is built on a succession of Cuban-style piano rhythms, suspended swing and driving hard bop. Fiercely intense biting solos by guitar, tenor and piano dance around the suspended groove of the rhythm section, concluding in a joyful collective improvisation.
Two beautiful ballads complete this delightful package. Are You the One is a lovely medium tempo piece that gives Danny Reyes an opportunity to showcase his warm and fluidly beautiful flugelhorn. The album concludes on a most appropriate note with At Long Last, a delicately constructed piece that’s like a Spring shower – warm and welcoming, from softly falling rain to fine cloudbursts. A perfect denouement to an album crafted with love and joy.
Adventures in Flight portends great things to come from PJ Rasmussen and his splendid ensemble.
Artists Website: www.pjrasmussen.com
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