Tipping Point-- Jason Anick

Jason Anick at 28 is one of the youngest instructors at Boston's Berklee College of Music, where he teaches jazz violin and mandolin, history of jazz violin, and "Django" ensemble. The New Englander took up classical violin at age five, met Stéphane Grappelli at 11, and has since become a significant performer of Gypsy jazz while expanding his horizons to include mainstream, hard bop, and more with his own groups, as well as the John Jorgenson Quintet, the Rhythm Future Quartet, and the New Hot Club of America. On this CD, like his 2011 debut Sleepless, Anick also displays a proficiency and luster on acoustic and electric mandolin approaching that of his violin. Supporting Anick in different configurations are pianists Jason Yeager and Matt DeChamplain, bassists Greg Loughman and Adam Cote, drummer Mike Connors, alto saxophonist Clay Lyons, and, on just one track, guitarist Lee Dynes and tenor saxophonist Kris Jensen. They vigorously and infectiously navigate eleven diverse selections that include Anick originals, standards, and tunes by Django Reinhardt, Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, and Ornette Coleman.

"Stomped Out" has a sweeping theme reminiscent of Jean Luc Ponty, as played by Anick's violin and Lyons, whose alto sax unfurls the first spurting and darting solo. Yeager follows with a more settled, lyrical demeanor, but Anick ups the ante with a rollicking and nimble flair. A bittersweet interlude offers yet another contrast before the full-speed-ahead reprise. The catchy, spiraling theme of Anick's "Inspiration Point" leads to a series of short exchanges between the composer and Lyons, challenging each other with their inventive takes on the inviting material. A staccato vamp then drives Yeager's densely packed piano. On "Maryandra," Anick's mandolin combines with Yeager for a classically-tinged intro prior to the leader's delicately spun conveyance of his sparse and endearing melody. Yeager charms with the vibrant lines of his solo, and Anick constructs his intriguing statement with a deliberate and logical care. A stair-stepping segment from mandolin and piano segues seamlessly into the original theme and its similar content.

Reinhardt's "Minor Blues" is freshly arranged in terms of tempo and delivery, but Anick's violin solo flows with the melodic and rhythmic zest of one Grappelli. DeChamplain's brilliant impov swings madly, and Cote's bass solo sustains the excellence of all that has preceded it. The sparkling trades and interaction between Anick and DeChamplain are an additional treat. Silver's majestically moving "Peace" is sensitively treated by the quartet, with Anick and DeChamplain sublimating their obviously ample techniques to the purpose of meaningful expression in their solos. Anick's acoustic mandolin executes the wistful, deceptivly intricate theme of his "Occupy," and the piece builds dramatically as the leader is heard, at one point, in intense conversation with himself on his acoustic and electric instruments. His pliant and absorbing exploration, however, is all acoustic and rewardingly so as it rises to a crescendo. Yeager's scampering piano also has a fruitful say in this elaborately structured arrangement.

Anick's waltzing "This One's for You" is sweetly intoned by his violin, with a darker bridge in effective divergence. Yeager's bright solo possesses a classical vibe, and he's succeeded by Anick at his tuneful and emotionally committed best. Loughman and Connors' alert backing is particularly enhancing on this irresistible track. DeChamplain's tranquil yet luxurious intro to "My One and Only Love" paves the way for Anick's beautifully flowing rendition of the melody, again tipping his hat to Grappelli. He does the same with his ensuing extended improv, in all its arpeggiated, unabashedly lyrical glory. The pianist's precise excursion evokes Art Tatum, no easy feat, and Anick's succinct coda is boldly convincing. "This I Dig of You," one of Mobley's most recognizable tunes, is given a quick-paced, exhilarating ride, as Anick breezes through the changes with imaginative phrasing. DeChamplain keeps the momentum intact in his unrelenting turn, and Cole shows off his arco facility ahead of the reprise and a final, highly appealing, unison flourish by violin and piano.

Coleman's always enticing "Turnaround" finds Anick's electric mandolin, Dynes' electric guitar, and Jensen's tenor in mellow harmony on the head. Dynes' compelling solo is bolstered by Anick's deft comping, and the guitarist in turn offers astute underpinning for Jensen's brawny, soulful romp. Anick picks up on the tenor's closing phrase and briskly moves on from there with nimble skill and refreshing ideas. Tenor and strings trade off exuberantly into the "turnaround." Anick's rich-toned presentation of the melody to "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" once more evinces the vibrato and spirit of Grappelli, and DeChamplain sustains a swinging groove in response. The leader's solo is polished swing era violin at its most affecting, and his lively give-and-take with the dynamic DeChamplain has a naturally fluid cohesiveness.

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Scott Albin