THE HEADY GROOVE of this solid Stateside jazz/rock album has had me transfixed for some weeks. But it’s way too good to keep to myself!…
Land Grab – the second release, as leader, from Michigan-born double bassist Sam Trapchak and his irrepressible quartet of Greg Ward (alto sax), Tom Chang (electric guitar) and Christian Coleman (drums) – hits a remarkable balance of compositional and improvisatory verve; and its the raw power of frontline alto and guitar combined with robust bass and drums which holds the attention throughout, as well as an impressive ability to snap from lush, lofty chordal jazz into irresistibly gutsy hard rock riffs.
Tom Chang’s prominent, sustained and enquiring guitar style is likely to draw a good few comparisons – easily John McLaughlin or Pete McCann; perhaps John Abercrombie, Allan Holdsworth or John Goodsall – sharing a great voicing affinity here with saxophonist Greg Ward to pull off a raft of audaciously complex unison lines. Take, for example, bold, swaggering Lumpy’s Blues which, buoyed by the thunderously percussive rhythms of Trapchak and Coleman, resounds to brash, Led Zeppelin-like guitar-and-sax riffs; and Trapchak himself displays an animated bass pliancy reminiscent of Dave Holland or Ben Allison.
Pterofractal, which opens the album’s extended six-track sequence, soars deliciously to a frenzy of clanging guitar mixed with unfettered, Steve Coleman-like sax; and the searching ambience of Beautiful/Furious switches into fabulously overdriven, pitch-bent wailing from Chang. Here again, sax and guitar connect superbly in shrill, on-the-edge improvisation as Greg Ward’s alto sputters and swoons to the fierce rhythm (as writer, Trapchak rarely seeks the limelight, but is clearly the backbone of this quartet).
The briefest and most insular of the tracks, Bell Curve, is a lightly-trod episode of rising and falling contrapuntalism, predominantly for drumless trio – fascinating to hear how the differently-textured, almost Bachian melodies intertwine; and, introduced by Trapchak’s phonetic bass solo, nine-minute Breathing Room opens into a broad, prog jazz landscape redolent of the work of Asaf Sirkis or Nguyên Lê. Title track Land Grab closes the album in a blazing Weather Reportian/Mahavishnuan maelstrom fired by the persistent pulsation of bass and drums; and Ward’s lower alto register, not unlike Shorter, becomes hypnotic when combined with Chang’s piercing, seemingly McLaughlin-inspired soloing.
Released on Raw Toast Records, Land Grab is available from CD Baby as well as iTunes and Amazon. Sam Trapchak’s intelligent compositional prowess is intuitively realised by this fine quartet, and turning up the volume is requisite… but just keep those ‘air guitar’ hands on the steering wheel!
Sam Trapchak bass, compositions
Greg Ward alto sax
Tom Chang electric guitar
Christian Coleman drums
Raw Toast Records (2015)