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Andrew Rathbun: Affairs of State

“Fiction could not create more colorful, ridiculous characters,” writes Andrew Rathbun in the liner notes to Affairs of State. He’s speaking of the Bush administration. A native of Canada based in Brooklyn, Rathbun is upset, like many, by political realities in the U.S. Since instrumental jazz, not fiction, is his expressive medium, he offers nine new compositions that speak to life under Bush, with such titles as “Fiasco,” “Break the Chains” and “We Have Nothing But Tears.” No major-key strolls in the park here. No heavy-handed rants, either. The program succeeds above all on musical grounds. Rathbun is an advanced tenor/soprano sax improviser whose previous efforts, including his 2002 Kenny Wheeler collaboration Sculptures, are well worth acquiring.

Playing tenor exclusively on Affairs of State, he leads a quintet with his frequent collaborator Taylor Haskins on trumpet. Gary Versace is credited on piano, though he plays Rhodes on four tracks. Bassist John Hebert and drummer Mike Sarin bring agitation but also fluidity into the mix. Rathbun gravitates toward funky, straight-eighth rhythms and complex linear patterns that set soloists off and running. “Tears,” freer in conception, has the band improvising collectively as Versace’s Rhodes conjures a strange, almost machinelike aura of post-tonality. There’s a more lyrical, legato side as well, on the 9/11 remembrance “5th Anniversary” and the spacious “Ongoing.” Finally, on “Paint Peelings,” a comment on failing infrastructure, Rathbun adds yet another new sound element, overdubbing his horn to access three-part harmony.

Originally Published