Marty Ehrlich: News on the Rail

There are more than a few bright spots in Marty Ehrlich’s 20-year solo discography; the St. Louis-reared multireedist has turned out product of a consistent high quality. This release, his second for Palmetto, actually ups the ante in some regards.

News on the Rail is a composer’s album, distinguished by a thoughtful pen. It’s also a study in timbres, thanks to the inspired combination of James Zollar’s trumpet, Howard Johnson’s tuba and Ehrlich’s clarinets and alto saxophone. Most of the songs flatter this frontline with easygoing polyphony. Ehrlich, at home in the more melodic corridors of the avant-garde, aims for something stirring but not strident, and succeeds.

He could have done so with other players, but part of the pleasure of this record is hearing musicians not that often exposed. Zollar’s bracing entry on “Enough Enough” kicks things off with panache, and James Weidman’s solos on piano and melodica are compact lessons in time and touch. Johnson is his usual powerful presence, especially on the slow funk of “Hear You Say,” and drummer Allison Miller and bassist Greg Cohen get their job done, in the best possible sense of the phrase. Altogether, the group achieves a surefooted and soulful experimentalism.