Turn Around Norman – We Turn Around (2011)

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Members of Baltimore improv music combo Turn Around Norman have been around a lot of jazz greatness: Tim Berne, Michael Formanek, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver, Dave Douglas and Darcy James Argue are but a few of the big shots members in this ensemble have performed and recorded with. Combined with the unpredictable but never timid personality of Baltimore’s experimental music scene, and the guys in TAN possess the means to take listeners on a wild, fun and heady ride through the of fringe music.

The group recently unleashed their debut CD We Turn Around, but they’re not entirely new around these SER environs. The rhythm section—Adam Hopkins (bass) and Nathan Ellman-Bell come from the crunchy whack rock/jazz band Quartet Offensive, whose Carnivore record we profiled here a couple of years ago. Added to this foundation are alto saxophonist Cam Collins and keyboardist JJ Wright.

Collins, Wright and Hopkins share the songwriting duties roughly equally, and each bring their own predilections to the table. Hopkins carries over that heavy metal and punk jazz attitude that was central to Quartet Offensive’s DNA. His two contributions “Where The Eff Is Jon?” even hints at hip hop, but moves at a syncopated pace, combining elements of jazz, indie rock and post rock. The mood turns darker and diabolical on “We Turn Around,” where Wright’s Wurlitzer makes a well-suited proxy for the trashing guitar heard on Quartet Offensive.

Collins’ compositions lean toward the emotional outpouring of Ornette Coleman and can careen from the shifting chaos of “Chronograph Hesperidium” to the emotional spiritualism of “Fin.” Wright cites minimalists Steve Reich and John Adams as big influences, and those sources of inspiration can be heard on tracks like “Transparency I & II” and “Awakening,” but Wright’s songs share some of the eccentric and circuitous harmonic progressions of his bandmates’ songs.

The three major songwriting voices do much to make this a varied set of music, but coherency still manifests itself it in the rugged, forceful and often dramatic way they perform. Live in the studio with few edits, this sounds much like I’d imagine they’d sound like on stage. Meaning, We Turn Around comes off as an honest rendering of the band’s uncommon personality.

We Turn Around was self-released on July 26. Visit Turn Around Norman’s website.

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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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