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Greg Ward: Greg Ward’s Phonic Juggernaut

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Whether it’s a desire for a stripped-down sound or a nod to the economy, all the hip young saxophonists have trios these days: JD Allen, Darius Jones, Marcus Strickland. Joshua Redman (not so young anymore) recently had one, and now young alto saxophonist Greg Ward has one. Sonny Rollins, of course, popularized the format, but we’re beyond the point where we need to compare every sax trio to his.

Ward’s trio with bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Damion Reid is an odd one, though. Ward can do what he wants-blow with fury or with sweetness-but either way Reid is going to go all hard rock and hip-hop on him. Throughout Greg Ward’s Phonic Juggernaut, Reid plays like a well-trained madman. Ward introduces “Above Ground” with two notes (B and F-sharp) repeated and repeated, and Sanders thumps with authority while Reid smacks with abandon in a frenzied style. It’s an odd mix of warmth, thoughtfulness and thrash. Polyrhythms are constantly in play. Reid is either creating a contrast with the melodic structure of tunes like “V.S.” or slyly telling the listener to ignore it; it’s not clear which.

Ward himself is a fascinating player. He’s restrained and ruminative on “Velvet Lounge Shut-In,” but a restless energy bubbles just beneath the surface. There is a moment four-and-a-half minutes into “Above Ground” when his sax sounds precisely like a toddler erupting into an all-out bawl after not getting his way. One wonders what Ward might sound like with more sympathetic drumming behind him, but one also suspects the bombastic pounding was the bandleader’s idea. For one thing, Reid doesn’t always play like this. For another, the sound of this album is just too huge, as though the recording session were done in an airplane hangar.

Originally Published