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Suite for Players, Listeners and other Players onefinalnote.com review

On previous recordings, Steve Swell has drawn inspiration from astronomy, physics and higher math—all heady stuff. But for his newest CIMP release he finds his muse in less rarefied quarters. Suite for Players, Listeners and Other Dreamers evokes images of earthly travel, possibly to and from Redwood, NY, home of the Cadence compound populated by the "Groove Merchants" celebrated in one track's title. Along for the ride is a highly compatible group of travelers—Will Connell, alto sax, flute, and bass clarinet; Roy Campbell, trumpet, and (briefly on one track) flute; Charles Burnham, violin; Francois Grillot, bass; and Kevin Norton, drums.

Swell has mapped out the session with nary a detour; his directions are clear and to the point. The tunes each have simple and concise heads that the sextet delivers with ragged enthusiasm. "Sailing Home" is typically catchy, opening with a 5/4 bass line that evokes the "Mission Impossible" theme with a gospel-inflected melody superimposed. Here, as on most of the tracks, Swell eschews more elaborate structures for straightforward heads and solos with each member of the front line stepping forward in turn to take blistering, compact rides. Swell is at his raucous best, emitting a complex roar. Connell, a little known journeyman, has the throaty brilliance of Ornette Coleman. Campbell's full-bodied lines are typically probing. And Burnham proves a master at evoking a variety sounds from his fiddle. He opens "Giving Thanks Once Again" with some plaintive wah-wah bowing that sets the tone for this penultimate piece before giving way to Grillot's arco bass. The bassist remains in the spotlight throughout the piece, getting a chance to shine after providing yeoman support through the course of the earlier six tracks.

Grillot's rhythm sectionmate Kevin Norton, however, doesn't have to wait as long. The disc opens with an explosion of drums, and Norton propels the session from then on. An unsuspecting listener would be excused for thinking that the aggressive Norton himself was the date's leader. On "Groove Merchants", Norton and Grillot set a distinctive rhythmic pattern under each soloist, then execute subtle shifts in swing as the solos progress. The final valedictory track, "Validation", builds to a Norton solo, before fading (naturally of course, this is a CIMP production) to a final, sotto voce bass note.

The entire suite has both the flow and unity of a large compositional work and the spontaneity of a jam session. Thanks to its directness and loose-limbed swing, this proves to be one of the most accessible of Swell's many notable sessions—an excellent place to start on a journey into the trombonist's intriguing musical world.

Published: 3 February 2004

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