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Adventures in Flight-- P.J. Rasmussen

This is one of the best debut releases so far in 2013, revealing as it does the promising talents of P.J. Rasmussen as a guitarist, composer, and arranger. Now in his early 20's, Rasmussen took up the guitar at age 10 while listening to artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton, but later was drawn to the funk and hard bop sounds of '60's Blue Note Records. He has played and/or studied with guitarists Andrew Light, Bucky Pizzarelli, Paul Meyers, Gene Bertoncini, and Jack Wilkins, and has begun composing for theatrical productions. Rasmussen has absorbed his blues and jazz influences into an inquisitive and already distinctive guitar style, and his eight tunes on Adventures in Flight are by varying degrees lyrical, catchy, and streamlined, the kind that you might find yourself humming when least expected. The cohesiveness and commitment of the musicians on this CD belies the fact that they were only together for several rehearsals before laying down this rewarding music for posterity. Much credit for the success of this project therefore goes to tenor saxophonist Nate Giroux, trumpeter Danny Reyes, pianist Chris Pattishall, bassist Adrian Moring, drummer Steve Johns, and vocalist Kelly Green, all contemporaries of Rasmussen except for the veteran Johns.

"Avionics" has a bracing hard bop theme that is taken up by the front line before Rasmussen's nimbly soulful, note-bending solo. Giroux's tenor follows in hooting fashion, and Pattishall sparkles prior to Johns' muscular workout and the exultant reprise. The brooding melody of "Baden Hill" rides over Johns' hypnotic backbeat, and Giroux's throaty, darting solo, Pattishall's boldly shifting improv laced with Don Pullen-like dissonances, and finally Rasmussen's all out blues-driven romp that continues on after a brief reprise, make this a most compelling track--not to mention those stirring written tenor-trumpet parts behind the guitarist. "Waxing and Wayne-ing" opens with Pattishall's McCoy Tynerish intro and solo, and then Giroux and vocalist Green run through the robust theme that recalls John Coltrane more than Wayne Shorter, to whom this piece is dedicated. Rasmussnen's ringing exploration starts out mellow, but climaxes intensely. Giroux's forceful turn seems to take the middle ground between Trane and Wayne.

The warmly inviting theme of "Are You the One?" is gracefully delineated first by Giroux, then Rasmussen, and lastly in tenor-guitar-flugelhorn harmony. Moring's lyrical, lucid bass solo is responded to in kind by Rasmussen, with Pattishall's adept support. Reyes' rich flugelhorn sound enhances the expressiveness of his statement. This beautiful waltz evinces Rasmussen's already developed maturity as a composer. For "Sunday Driver," a heady circular motif generated first by guitar and then piano sets up a staunch counter-melody, succeeded by Giroux's alternately spiraling and shouting solo. Rasmussen's spot is a jazz-rock gem, and Johns gets in his relentless licks near the end. Reyes leads the Latin head of "Stolen Miracles" over Pattishall's montuno, but the piece soon evolves into an edgier hard bop vehicle. Rasmussen's thrusting solo never loses its engaging fervor, and Giroux matches his passion. Pattishall sustains the heated mindset in his tempestuous improvisation, and the group's interactive out chorus somehow soars to an even higher plane before regrettably fading away.

The funky, careening line of "Kickin' the Can" inspires Rasmussen's blues-drenched solo, as well as his pungent backing of Pattishall's testifying proclamation. Giroux in turn wails away with vocalized infections until the tune comes full circle. Moring's and Johns' malleable, propulsive rhythms are the straw that stirs this intoxicating drink. "At Long Last" has an endearing theme that is only enhanced by Green's wordless harmonizing. Rasmussen's melodious, transcendent solo possesses a country music earnestness, and Pattishall's glistening, heartfelt reflections advances that aura. Giroux's tenor is breathy, wafting, and captivating. Listening to the reprise, one realizes that this memorable melody cries out for a set of lyrics worthy of it. Anyone?

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Scott Albin