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Jeff Albert’s Instigation Quartet - The Tree on the Mound

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Artist: Jeff Albert’s Instigation Quartet

Album: The Tree on the Mound

Label: RogueArt

Review date: Apr. 12, 2013

Fred Anderson figures heavily into trombonist Jeff Albert’s The Tree on the Mound. Albert and drummer Hamid Drake were both students of the dearly departed Chicago saxophonist and proprietor of the Velvet Lounge. Bassist Josh Abrams also traveled in orbits concentric and tenorist Kidd Jordan could arguably be called Anderson’s musical soulmate considering the number of collaborative encounters they shared over the years. The four players pay homage on The Tree on the Mound by opening and closing the program with Anderson compositions. Sandwiched between those spirited performances are four Albert-penned pieces and a fifth collective improvisation by the quartet.

New Orleans figures centrally into the music as both the location of the recording and a guiding state of mind for the participants. Jordan remains one of the city’s largely unsung treasures. Even with a career that spans well over a half century in music, his recorded output remains vexingly sporadic when compared to his peers. That slim catalog also hasn’t offered the most complete document of his range, a shortcoming that still contributes to his reputation as fire-breathing altissimo screamer who usually considers nuance and restraint an afterthought. Although his command of what was 60 years ago dismissively called the “freak register” is complete, his ability to communicate whatever he wants through his horn is equally ironclad, from a roaring barrage of split tones to a purring balladic croon. Archly put, Jordan is the real deal and those that argue anything otherwise are just whistling Dixie.

Albert, Abrams and Drake all have facets of NOLA’s deep traditions in their playing, and all give voice to them from the outset. Things get off to a righteous, if slightly rough start on the opening Anderson tune “Three On Two,” the latter condition mainly due to Jordan muscling into the foreground with his dry, vibrato-laced exclamations. The adjustment period is brief, though, and remedied in large part by Albert’s gliding retorts that adeptly contrast Jordan’s flexing blasts.

By the time the four align on the first of Albert’s four “Instigation” pieces (inexplicably out of numerical sequence and missing two in the order), everybody sounds as if they’re more comfortably on the same page. The last three tracks in particular find the group really hitting a galvanizing stride and crafting a series of bracing contrapuntal passages. “Instigation Quartet #6” unfolds as a succession of duets, the first an explosive dialogue between Jordan and Abrams, the next a slow burn from Albert and Drake before moving on to an invigorating ensemble section and roof-raising solo by Jordan. Tenor and trombone converse and cavort in ornate arcs with a level of close confluence complemented by bass and drums. It’s a consensus that carries over into the closer, a collective leap through the indelible finger-snapping groove of Anderson’s “The Strut.”

As strong and dominant as Jordan is throughout much of the set, Albert never demurs or balks, generating a sound that is at once lubricious and loquacious. Plunger mute only shows up sparingly and Albert belongs to that rare breed of trombonist whose textural ingenuity is almost more impressive without the aid of any dampening devices. Drake is a polyrhythmic powerhouse, laying down strong and supple beats with sticks, but also turning to brushes and other implements with equal facility. The album clocks in well under an hour, but that economy is a positive considering how well it positions the listener for repeat runs through the program. Albert wasn’t exactly on my radar before, but he definitely is now.

By Derek Taylor

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