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Jon Hazilla and Saxabone: Form & Function

Drummer Hazilla has once again come up with a tasty concept and thematic set that prominently-but never overbearingly-features his droll, understated, no-nonsense trap settings. This time he pits kit against three saxes and trombone. Saxabone is all colleagues at Berklee College: altoist Jim Odgren, tenor man Greg Badolato, bari guy Tim Mayer, trombonist John Pierce. That’s it: neither bass nor chordal instrument obtrude on their elemental encounters of horn and skin. That the Berklee instructor reveres Max Roach may clearly be heard in the brisk, clean solo gambits that open, end, and pepper their way not quite symmetrically through the date. These solos are brief performances-none except “10 Little Indians,” dedicated to Roach, exceeding four minutes-not study exercises. His “Self Portrait” is a candid turn with smooth hard mallets bouncing off dry hi-hat counter-rhythms.

Hazilla’s constant ear for balancing rhythm and melody make a strong case for Saxabone being a chorale for five “horns,” four brass and one cowhide. He meshes with his mates on ensemble unisons and harmonies of four extended bop classics. Mayer gets a fine turn on Lee Morgan’s whole-tone tribute to Smilin’ Billy, “Our Man Higgins” with tuned skins. A free-form intro slides “Crepuscule With Nellie” into rich voicings as Pierce waxes orotund and Mayer bottoms up manfully, and Hazilla’s toms and bass drum fill out the chords.

Originally Published