The debut Betweenwhile from drummer Mike Pride’s quartet, From Bacteria to Boys, is a successful balance of the tuneful and the abstract, avoiding the “little bita dis– little bita dat” musical scenario. This group–made up of Pride, Peter Bitenc on bass, Alexis Marcelo on piano, and Darius Jones on the alto-pulls together the two extremes without sacrificing the crystalline character of either. Mike Pride composed nine pieces; the tenth, “Surcharge,” is written by German reed and wind player, Uli Kempendorff.
The piano leads off in the biographical “Kancamagus” with lyrical lines, unpredictable for a band which goes on to explore tight boppish rhythms in “Rose,” edgy yet thoroughly accessible tunefulness in “Emo Hope” to a network of dissonance in the last third of the recording.
The quartet seems to slice itself into two parts: piano and sax coupled with bass and drums. Bitenc and Pride constitute a steadfast rhythm section that can be perceived in the same framework built by the Parker-Drake duo. Bitenc’s solos and prominent pulse-keeping are telltale signs of his versatility. Pride’s strong, though lithe gestures shape drumming riffs that are precise, supportive, contrasting and not overbearing.
Pianist Marcelo and saxist Jones set the tone for the music. The centerpiece, “Bole: The Mouth of What?,” gives both players a chance to open up, particularly Jones. After this track, Jones unlocks his horn to go to a place where split tones prevail. Clearly a leading contemporary altoist, Jones has a heavy hand in reviving what it means for the sax to rely on melody, rather than endless ornamentation, as the primary vehicle for expanding narrative, the jazz idiom’s keystone.
A revisiting of the opening “Kancamagus,” featuring the alto instead of the piano, closes this record, an example of how musicians, representative of the avant-garde, can really swing.