Half Notes: Travis Sullivan – New Directions (2011)

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Since 1999, alto saxophonist Travis Sullivan has made a record on average only about every six years or so. Perhaps it’s because he’s very much into his signature project leading the 18-piece big band Bjorkestra, a vehicle for his arrangements of songs by Iceland’s pop icon Bjork. Enjoy! (2008) is the recorded fruits of his main labor of love, but lately he’s been eager to get back to a quartet setting. That’s what New Directions, out yesterday on Posi-Tone Records, is about. Recorded with his working small combo (Marco Panascia, bass; Mike Eckroth, piano; Brian Fishler, drums), Sullivan might have tamped down the band size, but not his love for a good pop melody. With a saxophone tone not too unlike Kenny Garrett’s, he starts with big hooks in his compositions, arranges them with enough wrinkles to befit honest-to-goodness straight ahead jazz, and wraps his improvising style around some very listenable harmonies. That applies whether it’s the modern, anthemic “Jaima’s Dance,” the quietly flowing “Autumn In New Hampshire,” or the crisp funk of the title song. The two covers flexes his interpretive muscles: Rodgers and Hart’s “Spring Is Here” is passionate in the right measure and Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Want To Rule The World” casts their perfectly built melody into a lightly waltzing euphony. New Directions might mark a shift for Travis Sullivan, but he falls back on his old, good habits to make it work as a fine listening experience.

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Half Notes is a quick-take music feature on Something Else! Reviews, presented whenever the mood strikes us.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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