Bassist Sam Bevan and his ensemble forge a sonic ambience that’s warm and welcoming. There’s an easygoing feel here, emotionally unforced, with lithe counterpoint and pastel harmonies inviting engagement without making the listener fear being impelled, or even guided, into realms too dangerous or challenging. The obvious point of reference would be the “cool” aesthetic extending back to Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, and Dave Brubeck. The task at hand, then, is to invoke these influences honestly while infusing them with enough fresh ideas to avoid the trap of revivalist nostalgia.
Whether in irony or not it’s difficult to tell, but at the onset of the opening “H&A,” drummer Eric Garland uncannily imitates a digitalized “click” beat; then, almost as if to declare their humanistic resistance to such gaucheries, the band eases into a breezy, swinging groove that burbles with an undercurrent of unforced funk. Above and out in front, the solos flow with liquid ease, only occasionally sharpened with spiky thrusts and dashes of astringency.
That pretty much sets the tone. “Pleasant” may sound pejorative, but it’s a fair verdict here. Only occasionally, as on “Parallel Falcon” (on which the multiple improvisations among trumpet, alto, and bari add color and dimension to the jubilant, dancing melody that serves as the piece’s overriding theme) and “Blues for CM” (on which Cory Wright’s tenor finally manages to escape the bonds of conventional tempo and tonality, and Kasey Knusden’s squawk-toned alto solo, combined with Garland’s propulsive drumming, provides some of the most pugnacious and exploratory playing on offer) do we get a taste of the courageousness and imaginative richness this ensemble is capable of at its best.