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John O’Gallagher: Abacus

On Abacus (Arabesque), the slightly left-of-center altoist John O’Gallagher leads a quintet in a set long on creativity, short on blood and sweat. O’Gallagher’s style is as cool and cerebral as one might expect from someone who covers both Arnold Schoenberg (“Song,” from the composer’s “Serenade for Octet”) and Lee Konitz (“Hi Beck”). While he’s an intelligent, meditative improviser, composition is central to his work. O’Gallagher’s sidemen-guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Russ Lossing, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and drummer Jeff Hirshfield-are appropriately sympathetic. Tunes like the free-boppish title track and the cleverly evocative, faux-canon “String Theory” are elaborately composed and arranged. Perhaps too much so-the record has something of a walking-on-eggshells vibe. O’Gallagher’s concept is rather too pallid for my taste. Yet to give credit where it’s due, he sounds like no one but himself, and what’s more important than that?

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