Too much head and not enough heart inform trumpeter Liam Sillery’s fifth outing on OA2. It’s not an easy album to warm up to. Nevertheless, along the way, the smartly tailored Priorité pushes some interesting and engaging intellectual buttons. It’s an angular album featuring Sillery’s bright, direct performing approach, the complementary alto sax of longtime compatriot Matt Blostein, and a busy, perspicacious rhythm section.
The launch pad is “A Priori,” an intriguingly forked tune in which Sillery and Blostein split leads until Sillery takes over, broadening the song with an intelligent, characteristically lean improvisation. Throughout, he and Blostein take up where the other leaves off, navigating a free-form section until restatement of the oddly catchy melody. Many tunes feature unusual chord structures, cross-rhythms apparently designed to generate mystery, and a grudging romanticism—particularly the brooding, swampy “Bicycle Ride” and “Tristan’s Way,” a bittersweet waltz featuring lovely brushwork from Vinnie Sperrazza.
The most accessible cut is “Remoulade,” an appropriately tangy tribute to a spicy condiment. Again, Sillery and Blostein share leads; meanwhile, drummer Sperrazza, pianist Jesse Stacken and bassist Thomas Morgan keep the song bubbling. Blostein’s solo struts; Stacken conjures the boppish funk of Junior Mance; Sillery delivers an intriguing, close-to-the-vest solo; and Morgan—pointed and percussive—brings the tune home.
There’s no questioning the virtuosity of this group or its straightforwardness. Despite its strengths, however, Priorité primarily engages on a cerebral plane. Jazz is better when it seduces rather than convinces.