So many jazz recordings with strings have been dragged down by mediocre arranging that Jim Snidero's maiden voyage as a writer for strings deserves liner essayist Bob Blumenthal's description of it as a triumph. Avoiding the common trap of making the section sound like one instrument droning behind a soloist, Snidero's arrangements have variety in voicings, texture, dynamics and movement. They enhance, complement or set off the alto saxophone and flute solos and those of pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Paul Gill and drummer Billy Drummond. The unity of purpose may not be unexpected, since the principal soloist is Snidero himself, but his level of arranging skill and judgment in a discipline that has defeated experienced writers is a notable accomplishment.
The centerpiece of the album is Snidero's "River Suite." The composition progresses through three movements from the placidity of "Dawn" to the momentum of "Torrent," with impressive solos from Snidero and Rosnes and a fiery improvised duet by violinist Mark Feldman and Drummond. In the suite and four other tracks, Snidero's alto solos are ripe with exuberence and good feeling that recalls Cannonball Adderley. That is true of the ballads as well as the uptempo pieces, especially so on "Forever Gone," which begins as a lament and becomes a celebration before it returns to reflection. Snidero's "Ventura" has a nice lilt in the melody line and in his solo, plus a stimulating duet by violist Ralph Farris and cellist Mary Wooten and a surprising suspended ending. In "Slipping Away," Snidero comes closest to conventional, middling string writing, but the propulsive quality of the piece nonetheless inspires him and Rosnes.
What a pleasure it is to hear a musician of the post-Coltrane era find joy in an old pop song like "It's The Talk of the Town," the only standard of the album. Snidero has been impressive for nearly two decades, but most of his recorded work as a leader has been for small companies with limited distribution. This attractive CD for a larger label could mark a breakthrough.