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It's Not That Far-- The Matthew Finck / Jonathan Ball Project

Although guitarist Matthew Finck and saxophonist Jonathan Ball met fortuitously many years ago as invited guests to the same wedding, this CD is the first to document their musical rapport and combined talents as players and composers. Finck's credits include Roswell Rudd, John Medeski, and Steve Wilson, while Ball has performed with Ira Coleman, Giovanni Hildago, and Dafnis Prieto. Completing a well-chosen quartet are bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum, who between them have backed such artists as Red Rodney, Joe Sample, Stan Getz, Michael Brecker, and John Scofield. Randy Brecker's trumpet or flugelhorn is the icing on the cake, heard on three of the nine tracks. The diversity of the co-leaders' tunes and the infectious commitment of their interpreters are what make this "project" such a success, and it's good to know that Finck and Ball are already planning future collaborations both on the bandstand and in the studio.

The theme of Ball's title tune, "It's Not That Far," as played by his tenor, is playfully boppish, and his solo churns and swerves through the inviting changes with spirited assurance. Finck inject more of a blues feel in his statement, with buoyant lines and varied inflections that paint a vivid aural picture. Nussbaum's peppery rhythms are an integral and essential asset throughout. Finck's "Gentle Soul" has a brightly inviting melody that fits the title well, not to mention a catchy guitar turnaround that adds to its potency. The composer's solo possesses a bit of Kenny Burrell's patient, bluesy construction, and Brecker's compellingly lucid turn remains consistently fresh. "Levin's Impression" (Ball) initially exudes a somewhat Brazilian flavoring, mostly stemming from Finck's guitar, but this is dispensed with during his adventurous solo that may remind you of Larry Coryell. Ball's improv is all over the map in its determined hurtling runs and outcries, an attuned expansion upon the inspiring staccato, riff-based theme.

Finck's "I Thought You Had Gone" recalls John Scofield's works, what with its bittersweet, blues-inflected theme, and Ball's biting tone and emotional delivery in his solo pack a punch. The guitarist's brief spot has a twangy countrified bent to it. Ball and Brecker engage harmoniously on the tensely convoluted theme of "Conundrum." The trumpeter's solo rumbles and spurts fulfillingly, Finck's is laden with probing single-note lines, and Ball's is starkly beseeching. The horns converse contrapuntally to absorbing effect post-reprise. Anderson and Nussbaum's proactive support seals the deal on this superior track. Finck executes the mellow melody of his "East 86th" with glowing articulation atop Nussbaum's impeccable brushes, with Ball taking the second go around and the first lyrically forceful solo. The nimble exploration by Finck is more understated but no less substantial.

Ball's "Geppetto" is introduced by Anderson's resonant bass before Ball and Brecker present the sharp-edged, thrustful theme. Ball's improv is commanding and uninhibited, and is answered by Brecker's elastic and provocative take that conjures up Dave Douglas. Finck's perceptive solo serves as a succinct summation of all that came before. Meanwhile, Anderson and Nussbaum's rhythmic underlayer captures a good amount of Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell's vibrant styles and interaction. The standard "The Way You Look Tonight" is taken as a deliberately paced semi-bossa nova, with Ball and Finck alternating appealingly on the melody. Their solos are unabashedly melodious, with sweeping and propulsive extended phrasings. "Get Up!" has a circuitous up tempo head, taken in zestful unison by the leaders. Finck's brisk evaluation maintains logic and momentum, and Ball's struts boisterously. Nussbaum's drum work is dynamically aggressive and enhancing.

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Scott Albin