I THINK I love this album (there… I’ve said it!). What began as a cursory listen – never a good idea – is already blossoming, after the much longer and closer inspection due, into an exciting and absorbing programme by Patrick Cornelius and a clutch of august, experienced musicians.
‘Infinite Blue’ is a quartet recording, or so it would seem – for when the already sturdy alto sax, piano, bass and drums combo is augmented on a good number of the nine tracks by trombone and/or trumpet, it grows legs and becomes an even more highly charged powerhouse of equally tightly-arranged and creatively-improvised original pieces. The strength of this new album by New York-based saxophonist and composer Cornelius lies in the very apparent display of confidence and intuition which all contributors share and radiate from beginning to end. Respected pianist Frank Kimborough, Whirlwind’s virtuosic Michael Janisch on bass and no-need-for-introductions Jeff Ballard on drums are joined by trombonist Nick Vayenas for five numbers, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet for three.
So what is it that entices so? Well, take a listen to ‘Puzzler’, with the sextet cramming so much into its four minutes. From the off, the pacey tempo and precision arrest the ears with an unbridled, thrilling display of unison writing, launching off into consummate, flighty improvisation from Rodriguez and Cornelius, with Ballard clattering hard on snare and toms (call it hard-bop, post-bop, whatever… but it’s almost worth the price tag alone!). Opening number ‘Regent Street’ shows similar pizazz with Vayenas’ slick, clean trombone soloing and Kimborough’s high flying piano above the secure, swinging rhythm section. ‘Waiting’ – a spacious, mellow offering – finds the close-knit horns suggesting a Big Apple cityscape, Janisch laying down flexing bass both for Cornelius’s yearning alto and a gently caressing high piano line.
The leader’s instrumental delivery is as strong on captivating improvisation as it is for his carefully-scored melodies, an ethic shared by his colleagues. Vayenas’ agile, lustrous trombone adds much to the big ensemble sound (check out his commanding solo on ‘Unfinished Business’); Kimborough and Cornelius communicate restrained, late-night melancholy on ‘In the Quiet Moment’ (one of two numbers as quartet alone); and Rodriguez’s adept brassiness shines throughout.
Photographically, the album sleeve alludes to Patrick Cornelius’s inspiration for his title – a family holiday flight through clear azure skies and a noted-down melody, followed later by his young daughter offering her crayons (and colouring book) to him, one labelled Cielo Infinito; indeed, the title track itself does seem to represent a calm, fresh and easy-going journey. To conclude, the attractive ‘Projection’, written by guest pianist for this track, John Chin, has a relaxed bossa feel (and, to my ears, a particular progression fleetingly reminiscent of McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’!), gliding along to produce uplifting displays from all three frontmen.
Recorded and engineered with great clarity in Brooklyn last October – and releasing on Michael Janisch’s own flourishing Whirlwind Recordings label on 30 July 2013 – further information, sound clips and purchasing options can be found at: http://www.whirlwindrecordings.com/infinite-blue/
I shall keep on listening… and cranking it up loud!
Patrick Cornelius alto saxophone
Frank Kimbrough piano
Michael Janisch bass
Jeff Ballard drums
Nick Vayenas trombone
Michael Rodriguez trumpet
John Chin piano
Whirlwind Recordings – WR4637 (2013)