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Matt Brewer: Mythology

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Matt Brewer’s recording debut as a leader is an underground all-star project. Underground because the players here are critics’ favorites but not exactly festival draws; all-star because they are heavy hitters on the frontier of the jazz art form. They are alto saxophonist Steve Lehman, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist David Virelles, guitarist Lage Lund and drummer Marcus Gilmore.

Their playing is edgy, clean and intelligent. But Mythology is an atypical all-star session. Even with all the individual firepower in this band, solos are selective and concise. Brewer’s achievement is to merge five strong personalities into his concept while leveraging their strengths.

That concept gravitates toward idiosyncratic lyricism, spare but fervent. Brewer wrote all the tunes but one. They are mostly neo-ballads that veer and evolve unpredictably. The instrumentation provides opportunities for unusual color blends and lush harmonies. Tunes are carefully arranged. Players stay in their roles, but when they emerge from the ensemble, they burn. “Moorings” is floating, indeterminate and haunting. Turner and Lund each give it specific personal meaning, even as they smoke it. Those two also offer compact, detailed, complete elaborations of “Rose Hill,” a song that hovers over Virelles’ incantatory vamp. Turner and Lehman are a lethal duo, scissoring into one another at the opening of “Fighting Windmills.” Then Virelles briefly abandons his obsessive cycling figures and flows free. The title track is a teetering sing-song made from two-saxophone counterpoint. It is Lehman’s feature. His solo is a rarefied dissertation, rich in content.

On Ornette Coleman’s “Free,” Turner and Lehman, synchronized, hurtle together through the head, reimagining 1960, channeling Coleman and Don Cherry. Then Brewer takes one of the most creative, far-reaching bass solos in recent memory, demonstrating that he is a special improviser as well as a promising new bandleader.

Originally Published