What went wrong? This set starts off well enough with a medium-fast "Cousin Mary," altoist Arthur Blythe reeling off Charlie Parker phrases with abandon, tubaist Bob Stewart playing a boogie line and a fluent John Hicks piano solo over Cecil Brooks III's vivacious drums. From there the CD declines. For a while the three accompanists play quite well throughout most of the session, the leader himself casts a peculiarly gloomy, out-of-character spell. Blythe's strengths-big sound, aggressive attack and bright melodic imagination-are best at up tempos and on pieces with chord changes, wherein the active harmonic structure lends shape to his frequently discontinuous lines. Exhale has too many slow tempos and one-chord pieces; moreover, his sound now is limpid and his attack laid-back. Even on promising tracks like "Just Friends" and "Straighten Up and Fly Right" his imagination is sub par. "7/4 Thang," an alto-tuba duet, is a clever idea but it simply expires, and the "Exhaust Suite" just sounds exhausted.
There are some rewards here. Blythe and Hicks create a good early-'50s R&B groove in "Night Train." Stewart introduces long multiphonics tones and plays duets with himself in "CJ" and the "All Blues" intro-it's quite a tuba sound.
About six weeks before this CD was recorded last year I heard Blythe stretch out and play some lovely, hot alto, so Exhale must have simply been a bad day.