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