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Andy Parsons/Gene Lewin/John Patitucci/Ben Monder: Flip!

On Flip!, coleaders Andy Parsons (saxophones) and Gene Lewin (drums), along with John Patitucci (bass) and Ben Monder (guitar), try to map out a terrain between the fast, smooth undulations of groove and the jagged peaks and valleys of traditional bop improvisation. The middle ground they find is a laid-back groove full of spaces in which to exercise their harmonically florid and emotionally cool invention.

Parsons wrote all but one of the songs on Flip!, and almost all follow a fairly clear pattern: Parsons’ saxophone states and repeats a melody built on harmonically ambiguous phrases, a middle section features solo elaborations by Parsons and one or two of the other players, and the theme comes back before the close for a few final go-rounds. “Tookish” shows this structure to its best advantage, as a winsome melody slowly builds a head of steam in Parsons’ sax and then gets treated to an angular, playful Patitucci breakdown before the melody satisfyingly returns.

But when “Tookish” sounds a lot like eight other tracks on Flip!, some of the impact is lost. Without a hard groove to push things along, many of the melodies are repeated until they sound listless, as in the title track or “Lot of Our Souls.” Parsons’ saxes dominate the aural texture throughout with a timbre that rarely varies; Monder’s solos provide relief not only with their inventiveness but also because their electric-guitar tang provides a break in the reedish monotony. And the improvisation is sometimes so cool that it chills its own invention, as twists and turns recur from song to song. These players find their space between groove and bop, but because they take the same route to that destination again and again, Flip! becomes less an exciting journey than a tedious commute.

Originally Published