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Tim O’Dell: Before My Life

O’Dell, a saxophonist who teaches at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., shares certain musical characteristics with Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton and Steve Lacy. His alto often sounds coolly melancholy, like early Konitz, and, at times, the rigor of his performances suggests Braxton and Lacy. He is a thinking man’s player and composer.

“Id,” the opener, shows O’Dell’s kaleidoscopic writing; crazy, zigzag lines appear along with a chatterbox conversation and a rock-guitar sound. The message is that this leader and this group have open minds. O’Dell (on soprano), bass trumpeter Ryan Shultz and guitarist Steve Grismore are the front-line protagonists, with bassist Tatsu Aoki and drummers Dave Pavkovic and Jim Dreier active supporters. (The two-drummer lineup is standard for this group.)

O’Dell describes “Before My Life” as a lament, and it includes gentle Jim Hall-like guitar and spare, lonely alto and warm bass trumpet. “Fire Ants” (named for the saxophonist’s trio with Aoki and Pavkovic) features duets as well as the trio juxtaposed against Shultz, Grismore and Dreier. “Angel and the Boys” is an unaccompanied alto solo-sad, with a hint of swing.

O’Dell’s music incorporates and integrates different streams of American music. You can hear the intellect and design at work in the performances, so you know the plan didn’t just originate on the bandstand. However, the bandstand is where the soul of the music comes to life, and if you were a participant, performances would challenge you to follow orders and keep to the right mood and also inspire you to take risks and have fun. O’Dell and company are quite adept at envisioning and realizing intersections and convergence of different genres.

Originally Published