The forceful resonance of Spencer Murphy’s bass solo on “Prayer,” the opening track on Fifth, immediately contradicts the new-agey pretentiousness of the disc’s liner notes. It’s meditative yet purposeful—not merely ruminating but actively seeking, celebrating a tranquility that sounds hard-won. The relaxed, samba-flavored “Projection,” composed by pianist/leader John Chin, further reflects the set’s overall thrust—thoughtful yet focused, its serenity girded by toughness and lightened by an understated but palpable sense of play. Chin’s chord-based solo seems almost stately, while soprano saxophonist Stacy Dillard summons both tonal robustness and linear coherence as he skitters jubilantly through the registers. Tenorman Tivon Pennicott complements him, his breath-filled, rounded tone evincing a lineage extending from Getz all the way back to Prez.
Over the course of this 14-track offering, each man gets the opportunity to come forth with a freely improvised unaccompanied solo (only Chin’s “Bzz,” played on Rhodes, disappoints, as it sacrifices musicality for gimmick-tweaked electronica). The only selection not composed by the principals is Wayne Shorter’s “Edda.” It exemplifies yet another recurring theme: a juxtaposition (not tension) between pentatonic scalar and chordal constructions (especially here, in Chin’s intro) and more Western-sounding, diatonic harmonic and melodic conceits. Dillard’s solo is lithe and angular, Pennicott’s curvier but no less adventurous. At one point, Chin’s solo toughens that pentatonic/diatonic dialectic into churchy soulfulness; elsewhere he alternates between acerbic seconds and full-bodied block chords, interwoven with extended single-note lines. Murphy, as usual, is deep-reaching and supple, as Lawrence Leathers’ rhythmic dexterity on drums is unobtrusive, complex and precise.