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Tom Christensen: Paths

Tom Christensen’s group is an eclectic two woodwinds-bass-drums quartet. More often than not he plays tenor sax, and his most obvious stylistic ancestor is early Wayne Shorter, without the heavy downbeats, while his permutations of motives also recall the methods of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

Some Christensen solos feature imaginative phrasing and sustained intrigue (“Just to Play,” “Nardis”), and “Just to Play” is an attractive, long-lined, Colemanish theme. But his solo in “You’re My Everything” is florid while others slip too quickly into double-time mazes of arpeggios. He applies his tenor style to his solos on the less expressive soprano sax and English horn, too. On alto and sopranino saxes, Charles Pillow takes a cool approach to John Coltrane-style phrases and intervals. A lot of feeling somehow got lost in the four decades after Coltrane and Shorter fathered these saxophone lineages.

A too-much-caffeine rhythm section adds to the music’s emotional detachment. Ben Allison plays bass with a nice big tone and insistently busy lines, and the rattly Satoshi Takeishi whacks at his drums with little purpose; all this activity disrupts the tension that the woodwind solos attempt to create. Two tracks have English horn in counterpoint with bass flutes or bass clarinets, making a mid-’50s West Coast-cool sound, while “Nardis” is in a minor Middle Eastern mode.

Maybe too much care went into Paths. What would Christensen and Pillow sound like if they’d just open up and swing?

Originally Published