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Hugh Steinmetz Quartet: Janus Head

Back in 2001, SteepleChase had the good sense to reissue Nu!, the 1966 recording debut of Danish trumpeter Hugh Steinmetz. Through the years, Steinmetz has worked with the likes of Manfred Schoof, John Tchicai and Lester Bowie. He also leads an octet and a 17-piece ensemble called Communio Musica, but recordings under his own name are few in number. It’s satisfying, therefore, to ponder Janus Head (CIM), which features Steinmetz with the American altoist Luther Thomas, a former member of Defunkt and the Black Artists’ Group who now resides in Denmark. The rhythm-section partners are Nils Davidsen (bass) and Ole Romer (drums). These 18 tracks, the first 15 of which comprise Steinmetz’s “Flower Suite,” are closely modeled on Ornette Coleman’s early quartet concept-a bit too closely, in fact, though it should be said that Thomas’ alto playing is well to the left of Coleman’s. After a while, the loose midtempo swing and bristly trumpet-and-alto blend become predictable. But the melodies themselves are rather charming, and surprises include the atmospheric arco on “Nova Zembla,” the funky feel at the end of “Lee’s Purple” and the trumpet and bass dialogue that occurs during “Inamorata.” The concluding “Road Tax,” a somber ballad, also changes things up. Steinmetz tends to play the straight man to Thomas’ raging free-jazzer, although he’s also capable of breaking through to a more uninhibited zone.

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