Combine the talents of an acoustic bassist and bandleader with dynamic compositional visions (Billy Mohler);…
Combine the talents of an acoustic bassist and bandleader with dynamic compositional visions (Billy Mohler); a drummer whose kinetic grooves purposefully elevate group performance (Nate Wood); a trumpeter whose individual approach draws from the best of the forward-leaning brass players (Shane Endsley); and a tenor saxophonist whose name elicits praise from every great saxophonist (Chris Speed), and you have a quartet of the highest order.
Each of these players boasts an expansive résumé, including work with popular bands (Macy Gray, Pat Benatar, Sting), and a multitude of jazzier ensembles that may fly below some jazz fans’ radar (the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex, Black Friday Trio, Kneebody). Anatomy is the quartet’s second release.
Even with subtle electronic enhancements, Mohler’s province can be summed up as state-of-the-art, small-group acoustic jazz. But unlike most bands without a chordal instrument — where the bassist follows the soloist’s harmonic deviations — Mohler’s ostinato bass lines are unwavering. These repeated motif phrases — established at the beginning of every tune — remain consistent to the end. It then becomes the horn soloists’ responsibility to improvise around the rough harmonic framework of the ostinato. This is not to say that Speed or Endsley are inhibited. Rather, they show their creative stripes on every solo by stretching harmonic boundaries rather than adhering to them.
Three concise solo interludes spotlight Mohler’s warm and woody upright sound. Other tunes flux between medium-tempo groovers and high-energy forays. Uptempo and ominous sounding, “Fight Song” and “Exit” are exemplary, their well-crafted unison melodies careering over ambiguous meters. The tributary “Speed Kills” is a highlight; the tenor saxophonist cruises effortlessly over a medium groove, coloring his angular lines with false fingerings, heady altissimo and split tones that mark him among the honorable successors to the great John Coltrane. — James Rozzi