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The Spokes: Not So Fast

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The instant upside of a clarinet-trombone-soprano saxophone trio is that it’s such an unusual grouping a fresh sound is pretty much guaranteed. But newness wears off quickly, leaving the players the challenge of making musical sense of the format. As soprano veteran Phillip Johnston writes in a song note for Not So Fast, the debut album by the Spokes, “The roles of the instruments can never be assumed the way those in a more traditional jazz [band] can.”

The Spokes-Johnston, clarinetist Andy Biskin and trombonist Curtis Hasselbring-thrive on the freedom to define their roles, both as individuals and members of a closely knit unit. If there’s a defining quality to Not So Fast, it’s the remarkable fluency of the playing. Alternating between lighter-than-air harmonies and edgy counterpoint, the band engages in games of tag in which one member is sprung to run across the middle with the central theme. Hasselbring’s uncommon agility on his instrument provides an exhilarating X factor: Good luck catching him.

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