Another Adventure-- PJ Rasmussen

No sophomore jinx for young guitarist PJ Rasmussen, whose second CD is every bit as rewarding as his Adventures In Flight, one of the best debut releases of 2013. While Adventures touched partially upon the theme of aviation, and Another Adventure reflects on the subject of the sea, one constant remains the prowess of Rasmussen as a guitarist, composer, and arranger. Rasmussen's launching point continues to be the well-conceived classic Blue Note albums of the '60's and their heady mix of soul, funk, hard bop, and post bop, as well as earlier inspirations such as Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. In introducing nine more notable compositions and arrangements, Rasmussen is joined in various combinations by the returning saxophonist Nate Giroux and bassist Adrian Moring, in addition to pianist Jim Ridl, drummer Jon Di Fiore, trombonist Steve Davis, trumpeter Ben Hankle, and saxophonists Scott Robinson and Lauren Sevian.

Rasmussen's seven-string guitar opens "Full Speed Ahead" with a heavy metal motif before a funky horn ensemble ensues with Sevian's baritone picking up the guitarist's line. Giroux's alto plays variations on it, Rasmussen kicks ass, the horns weave in and out of the mix, and Sevian and Robinson's tenor contribute soulfully engaging improvs. Ridl's quirky musings lead to a free form, spaced out interlude that comes full circle back to the irresistible, syncopated horn sequence, capping this ace Rasmussen arrangement. The convoluted theme of "Love Birds" posesses a West Coast Jazz feel in its execution. Giroux's tenor solo wails with a boppish flair, Hankle follows with a rich sound and a lucid tale, and Davis beguiles with an understated expressiveness. Rasmussen completes the solo arc with a pliant, ringing phraseology, and the horns' reprise reaffirms his composing skill. Robinson's sultry soprano caresses the poignant melody of "Another Adventure," which he then artfully transforms by repeating it in the upper register. The entry of Sevian's baritone on a vamp interwoven with the other horns' counter line expands the piece's horizons and textures with an essence of spirituality. That same vamp then backs succinctly profound statements from Hankle, Giroux, and Rasmussen, the latter's morphing into a lively contrapuntal group segment. The theme is reintroduced by the full congregation, this time exaltedly as Robinson's swirls and flutters fill in the gaps.

For "Under a Wave," wafting horns and lilting piano set an enchanting mood, with Ridl delineating the melody. Davis' trombone presents some fleeting impressions prior to Giroux's piercing, animated alto taking charge at length. Rasmussen's glistening short story and Ridl's cascading turn both benefit from the gratifying horn parts alongside them in yet another strong arrangement by the leader. Rasmussen's flamenco style guitar ostinato and Hankle's pungent trumpet establish the melodic content and rhythmic thrust of "The Seven Seas" initially, but the guitarist suddenly surprises us with an electrified, searing attack as the horns emerge with a Spanish-style flavor, a daring juxtaposition that works wonders. The variations in dynamics and levels of intensity make this a fascinating track. The ballad "Ruthie" finds Rasmussen's bent note, twangy delivery exuding a mellow soulfulness as he navigates the theme and elaborations upon it. Moring's resonant bass configurations are particularly salutary, as are the guitarist's floating, legato horn charts.

Moring's prevailing bass line during "Out of Phase" brings to mind the main Mission Impossible theme, and Rasmussen's edgy motif maintains the tense atmosphere, as does the staccato Latin-tinged horn outcries. Ridl digs deep in his probing solo, and Rasmussen responds with an intensely driven escapade. Guitar and horns engage in robust counterpoint on the out chorus that concludes this soundtrack snippet in search of an action movie to call home. "A Study in Scarlet" contains sonorities and an arrangement that may have the listener thinking of Art Blakey, especially with Davis making like Curtis Fuller to commence a series of solos that includes a deeply lyrical Hankle and an earnestly eloquent Moring. Like so many of Rasmussen's tunes, the reprise only underlines its polish, and the composer then lets loose himself over the horns' concluding vamp. "For David" unfurls with a stately Ridl, elevated by Moring's moving arco bass, bringing the lovely ballad to evocative life. Rasmussen's unassuming reprise of the theme, with Moring again taking on the perfectly complementary bridge, brings this charming work to its pensive end, no solos to be heard or really necessary.

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Scott Albin