Juxtaposition, drummer-composer Vinnie Sperrazza’s seventh full-length album, just doesn’t pop. With tenor saxophonist Chris Speed, pianist Bruce Barth and bassist Peter Brendler, he gets the ensemble right for this straight-ahead date; these musicians are, at worst, sterling professionals, the leader included. Sperrazza has a flair for exploiting the kit’s colors, and lacks the bombast of so many lesser drummers, which may also signal his undoing.
He pens nine of the album’s 12 tunes, but it’s the covers, including James Williams’ “Alter Ego” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” that are memorable. Sperrazza’s “The House on Hoxie Road” comprises simple phrases aimed at nostalgia, but they become confused by inscrutable changes; “One Hour” and “Say the Secret Word” have fun rhythms but unattractive melodic/harmonic matrices. The others demonstrate competence but not distinction. (The opening chord-lick combination on “Chimes” shows promise, but turns out to be the song’s peak.)
Of course, it’s the singer not the song, as they say. But Sperrazza’s determined restraint damns Juxtaposition to lack either bite or suspense. Permitted more vigor, Speed’s solo on the title track might have been a nail-biter; instead, even Speed seems to lose interest. Brendler and Barth are more game on “Solitary Consumer,” providing some gems (ditto “House on Hoxie Road”), but blandness and middling energy prove roadblocks. Even Tony Williams’ delightful “This Night This Song” falls victim to listlessness.
There are some moments of merit: Barth’s and Brendler’s aforementioned solos, an uncharacteristically spirited piano-saxophone counterpoint on “St. Jerome.” But in the end, Juxtaposition is best noted for Speed’s tenor tone, with its openness and evenness that often evoke his clarinet. When even the drum solos are inert, you’ve got a misfire on your hands.