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Chase Baird’s new studio ensemble functions like an ecosystem. The New York-based saxophonist released his second LP, A Life Between, with the star-studded lineup of pianist Brad Mehldau, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Dan Chmielinski and guitarist Nir Felder. There are no overlapping personnel from his 2010 debut Crosscurrent. Although this iteration of Baird’s group may be new, their interplay teems with life.
Throughout the broad stylistic terrain of his seven compositions — juxtapositions of ’90s rock (namely Radiohead), hard bop, post-bop and 19th-century classical — Baird’s solos leave ample room for dialogue. During his solos on the hazy ballad “Dream Knows No End,” each phrase echoes through the ensemble in a string of permutations that circles back to support him as he dances over the next change. Baird’s rough-hewn tenor sound, enlivened by a rich repertoire of articulations, perfectly complements the warm ambiance that Felder sculpts from a refreshing deployment of effects against the muffled body of his traditional jazz guitar tone. Their chemistry is most fruitful on the title track, a nocturnal confluence of Chopin and Coltrane. Mehldau’s opening solo conjures a swift groove that gives motion within the confines of the wistful atmosphere. Baird and Felder then emerge frolicking, trading licks that soon weave into a rapturous joint solo. With a penchant for horn-like melodies that spill and splay over the groove, the guitarist deftly matches his bandleader’s nimble, cathartic lines.
A similar dynamic emerges within the rhythm section. On “Reactor” — an angular, odd-metered banger — Chmielinski outlines the infrastructure in spare but syncopated bounds, granting the space and large-scale framework necessary for Sanchez to adorn the groove with feverish details. Mehldau brilliantly frames the action with echoes of previous fragments. Overall, each musician’s razor-sharp responsiveness allows for cohesive, well-shaped arrangements without relying on the anchor of rote repetition. — Asher Wolf