Tony Jones – Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness (2011)

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Photo by Jacqui Ford

I’m a sucker for odd instrumentations, which is one of the reasons why I’m drawn to progressive and whack jazz. Listening to strange timbres that come from instruments coming together that aren’t usually combined tends to perk my ears up, trying to solve the puzzle of the sonic conundrum. It helps when the players put it together in a stimulating way, too, and lately, there been a lot of those kind of strange brews coming from jazz’s more forward thinking musicians.

The brand new album led by saxophonist Tony Jones, Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness puts Jones in that category of musicians. Joining Jones are violinist Charles Burnham and drummer Kenny Wollesen, which is like taking a more common sax/bass/drums trio and replacing the low-end bass with a much higher pitched violin. That’s where the intrigue originates from.

Tony Jones comes from Oakland California, and as such, came up in that scene alongside Peter Apfelbaum, Steven Bernstein and Jones’ wife, Jessica Jones (formally Jessica Fuchs). It’s through Apfelbaum that he got to know violinist Charles Burnham (Henry Threadgill, James Blood Ulmer, Cassandra Wilson). Jones and Kenny Wollesen (Tom Waits, John Zorn, David Byrne, Bill Frisell) go way back, as Wollesen hails from nearby Santa Cruz, CA.

But back to the album. Pitch is a free jazz record, but it’s the serene kind of free jazz, that floats along in a space-filled, introspective assortment of odd sounds. It’s not about structure, timekeeping, loud squonking or chasing down scales at breakneck speed. Jones, Burnham and Wollesen prefer to instead to speak with each other civilly, spontaneously and communally. Jones plays his tenor with much discernment, walking the line between making every note count and not over thinking his playing. There’s much tradition and soulfulness in his mannerisms, which makes one not even dwell much on the fact that this is improvised music.

Take “Bits,” for example (YouTube below). Jones regards Burnham as a full equal, the two performing a delicate dance around each other as Wollesen adds just enough of a non-tonal overlay to accentuate the small shifts in mood.

“Howlin’ Wolf” temporarily removes Burnham from the mix to dwell on the interaction between Jones and Wollesen, and on “Billie,” Burnham returns to pluck his violin instead of bowing it, throwing off a vaguely Far Eastern vibe. “Division and Kent” is the closest the three come to real tension, which even in this case is bubbling just below the surface, and on “Jessie,” Wollesen’s gong-like tones takes the lead ahead of the Jones/Burnham front line. Each song offers a variation on experimenting with the unusual format, making each song tactfully distinctive.

As songs are mostly kept within the 3-7 minute range, nothing seems to linger on too long, and they never end tracks abruptly, they merely dissipate. Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness won’t hit anybody over the head with noise because it makes the noise mysterious and discreet. Tony Jones & Co. certainly aren’t the first to approach music that way, but the distinctive way they set out to do it makes Jones’ record commendable for its creativity.

Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness was released November 15 by New Artists Records.

Purchase Tony Jones’ Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness

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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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