“Cohabitation” is the ideal, bring-them-to-their-feet track to kick off an album. Brian Betz is stoked by a rhythm section (pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Steve Varner and drummer Jim Miller) that seems to get additional firepower from the song’s slightly dissonant bridge, which they use to push the guitarist to a boiling point. His solo begins with short rhythmic phrases that build into fast melodies. He operates the same way in “Razor Sharp (for Denny),” another fast number. Following a fiery Ridl solo with some upper-register runs, Betz enters playing slow clipped riffs that bounce off and on the beat, eventually cutting into a fast sprint. In “Carrot Cake,” he shapes and reshapes his ideas, building and twisting them with subtle variations.
Although the quartet sounds most impressive in the fast tempos, it handles the ballads with just as much skill. “The Twenty-Second Day” moves slowly, with some skilled octave work from Betz. He goes it alone on a version of “Chelsea Bridge” that shows off the strong, warm tone of his guitar. “The Shadow of Your Smile” is played uptempo, underlined by Varner’s walking bass line.
The Betz quartet might be coming out of a traditional, straightahead approach, but the push and pull of their music makes them stand out from the crowd.