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AYCH - As the Crow Flies

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Artist: AYCH

Album: As the Crow Flies

Label: Relative Pitch

Review date: Jul. 11, 2012

Why alto player Jim Hobbs isn’t more well-known is a bit of a mystery. In the early 1990s, he put out the first of a handful of releases by his group Fully Celebrated Orchestra, a killer trio that brought to mind Ornette Coleman’s trio with David Izenson and Charles Moffett without sounding the least bit derivative, due in large part to Hobbs’s idiosyncratic writing style and the group’s approach to free groove. The trio evolved into a quartet a decade later with the addition of Taylor Ho Bynum, whose clarion free lyricism and puckish sense of phrasing proved the perfect addition. Since then, Hobbs has kept busy with his own projects, a plethora of ad hoc groups playing around Boston, and more recently, as a member of Bynum’s Sextet, whose recent release, Apparent Distance, is well worth checking out. Which brings us to this recent release by the trio Aych.

While this meeting of Hobbs, Bynum, and Mary Halvorson is a collective, Hobbs’ mark is all over the session, from his role as producer to his five compositions that serve as framing interludes between the seven trio improvisations. This trio makes an immediate impression in the timbral combination of instruments, their distinctive voices, and their exacting sense of group interaction. Whether launching off from Hobbs’s open, melodic themes or delving into spontaneous explorations, the three are totally synched in on each other, crafting compact pieces full of detailed interplay. Aside from the title piece, the rest of the tracks clock in at between two and five minutes -- just enough time to chart out a structure, build upon the motivic kernels, and center in on taught conclusions.

Things kick off with the contrapuntal ricochet of Hobbs’s acrid cries, Bynum’s playful fillips, and Halvorson’s sharp, angular runs and hard-edged clusters, all building an edgy dynamism. This provides the perfect overture to the extended title piece, which begins with the three honing in on a trio reading of a lissome theme. Hobbs goes first, wrapping the melody in a velvety tone, phrasing his solo like a vocalist against a spare guitar undercurrent. Bynum’s burred deconstruction is up next, full of trills and smears at the upper registers of his horn against dark bass lines from Halvorson. The guitarist uses this to launch off into bent-note bluesy abstractions full of resonant chords and off-kilter sliding tonalities. Each of the statements build off of what proceeded, and they bring it all back together to collectively close out the piece.

Over the course of As the Crow Flies, they ply a variety of strategies, from tightly voiced, hocketed volleys to funky struts with a knowing nod to group interplay with roots that go back to Armstrong’s Hot Five to textural explorations. Whether prodding at harsh dissonances or lilting along on sonorous themes, the three keep a careful ear on the pulse and flow. There is also a canny pacing of the pieces across the CD, as they move from fractured abstractions to harmonically rich songs. The intimate setting lets each of the musicians shine, but aside from the title piece there is little soloing, but instead, a constantly evolving focus of their sympathetically plaited lines.

By Michael Rosenstein

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