Veteran guitarist David Gilmore has assembled a marvelous band for this album: tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, pianist Victor Gould, bassist Carlo DeRosa and drummer E.J. Strickland. He’s also chosen to de-emphasize his own compositions and focus on the work of artists who have (to borrow from the title) transitioned to the next world, three of them—Bobby Hutcherson, Victor Bailey and Jean “Toots” Thielemans—quite recently.
Hutcherson gets two nods, with intricate versions of “Farralone,” featuring Bill Ware on vibes, and “Blues Mind Matter,” which draws particularly well-conceived solos from Gould, Shim and Gilmore. For a funky, percussion-led and piano-less take on Bailey’s “Kid Logic,” Gilmore plays electric and acoustic guitar, impressively choosing the latter to navigate the hand-cramping central riff in unison with DeRosa. Thielemans’ “Bluesette” is converted to 4/4 time and given a set of reharmonized changes that seem to repeatedly circle in on themselves. Guest harmonica player Grégoire Maret’s wistful playing keeps the tune at least partly connected to its roots.
A few living composers are represented on Transitions too. Annette Peacock’s “Both” is the vehicle for some suitably spooky group improv. Hermeto Pascoal’s “Nem um Talvez” receives a tender reading on nylon-string acoustic. And there are two Gilmore originals, “End of Daze” and “Spontanuity,” both of which brilliantly combine the abstract and the visceral. Producer Gerry Teekens deserves extra audio-geek kudos for panning DeRosa’s bass toward the left side of the stereo spectrum and Strickland’s drum kit toward the right rather than, as is far more common, orienting both in the center. It’s a move that arguably gives listeners a better sense of what the rhythm section’s doing, and ought to be considered more often.