The Bottesini Project is a free-flowing ensemble led by the Denver-based saxophonist Paul Riola. The lineup is a fluid one. For Bottesini’s debut album, a double CD recorded in concert last year, the lineup is a stellar one: Ron Miles on cornet, Jeff Parker on guitar, Glenn Taylor on pedal steel, DJ Olive on turntables and laptop, Scott Amendola on drums and electronics and Doug Anderson on bass. Though they use their share of electricity, the music they create is organic. They improvise their compositions on the spot, and they let the groove drive them.
The groove is the thing. It powers all they do, much as the groove powered Miles Davis’ early ’70s bands and, more recently, the music of Medeski Martin & Wood and Tortoise. Parker, in fact, has played with Tortoise, which is not a bad reference point, since Bottesini likewise negotiates the fuzzy boundary of jazz and jam rock. Witness the evolution of a tune like “Time Zone Change,” which shifts its rhythm chameleon style: You barely notice it.
At times, though, one wonders what exactly Bottesini is up to. Some tunes take perhaps too long to develop (fine for a concert, but how about editing the sucker down to one CD). “Olive Bar” isn’t much more than four-and-a-half minutes of white noise ripped out of Keith Rowe’s AMM playbook. And though DJ Olive is growing on us, it’s hard not to notice that he has recycled his juxtaposition of President Bush saying “terrorist” with Middle Eastern vocals (it also appears on Moonshine, the new album from Dave Douglas’ group Keystone). Still, there’s a lot to like about the Bottesini Project’s outing, not least of all the nine-minute groove machine “Jet Lag.” Just try not to nod your head.