The postbop of Four by Six, so named for the two bands (quartet and sextet) that bassist Gregg August leads through his eight original compositions, is as stark as the cover photograph. Its melodies arrive in odd shapes and angles; its rhythms are irregular and staccato. It’s the harmonies that most distinguish it, however: Their sourness blankets the album, turning an otherwise accomplished effort into a rather unpleasant listen.
The quartet pieces demonstrate this most acutely. What starts out as a melodious solo helix for Sam Newsome’s soprano sax on “Strange Street” quickly curdles when pianist Luis Perdomo’s dense chords come in supported by August and drummer E.J. Strickland. (Newsome recovers a bit in an impassioned marathon of a solo, almost despite August’s best efforts.) Sax and piano open “A Ballad for MV” together, but in harmony that’s just that side of consonance. The sextet pieces are an improvement, but not a big one. “Relative Obscurity” is built on short block-chord riffs that make it easier to digest, but JD Allen’s tenor saxophone is determinedly contrary to John Bailey’s trumpet and Yosvany Terry’s alto. “Bandolim” is the disc’s least confounding track—an achievement, considering it’s in 11/4—but its theme and (especially) Allen’s solo stray in and out of the lines as in a child’s coloring book.
Nevertheless, the individual musicians sound great, especially August, with his round tone, and Bailey and Allen, in their high-energy explorations. And August has something new to say as a composer; his staccatos are intriguing, particularly from the usually flowing soprano. (Newsome’s slap-tonguing on the opener, “Affirmation,” sounds like clipped guitar notes.) If only he said it from a more appealing platform.