Grass Roots (Sean Conly/Alex Harding/Darius Jones/Chad Taylor) – Grass Roots (2012)

No, these aren’t the guys who brought us the AM radio staples “Let’s Live for Today” and “Temptation Eyes” in the late 1960s-early 1970s. It’s a supergroup of hard working, highly regarded players in New York’s world class improvised scene: drummer Chad Taylor, bassist Sean Conly, baritone saxophonist Alex Harding and alto saxophonist Darius Jones. To these guys, “grass roots” has a whole different meaning, music-wise. Per the liner notes, “a grass roots musical movement implies that the creation of the music and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures within the arts/music community. Grassroots music is made at the local level, not designed like a corporate product.”

Knowing the history of these musicians is knowing that they can’t make music any other way but at the organic, local level.

What might be surprising (or not) about Grass Roots, is how quickly the four had congealed to establish a certain, interlocking way of making music. The strong personalities of everyone come out on these recordings, but not in competition with each other but in cooperation. Harding’s burly baritone finds companionship with Jones’ passionate, room-filling alto. Conly and Taylor proactively initiate the direction of a song, providing guidelines that the saxophonists can easily exploit. All are more than capable of blurring the lines between improvisation and accompaniment.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Darius Jones has done what many relative newcomers to the scene dare to do in the world of “out” jazz, and that’s fully define himself as an original player, composer and bandleader right from the get-go. That's all evident on his latest albumThe Book Of Mæ’bul (Another Kind Of Sunrise).]

Not that Grass Roots makes much distinction between the two, anyway. Sharply defined blues or r&b themes serve as launching pads for abstract expeditions. Even when there is unadulterated free jazz going on, dense noise isn’t the default tool, it’s just one of several devices used in unlimited expression. Jones’ “Hotttness” (Youtube below) makes all this clear: he introduces a grand theme that’s easy to latch onto with tension flittering all around, settling into a calypso groove and then, an explosion followed by the slow groove again. On “Ricochet,” Harding and Jones breathe fire through their horns as Taylor and Conly rumble fearlessly underneath; all that’s needed is for Charles Gayle to join in the fun on tenor sax. “Schnibbett” is shaped by a great sense of modulation, flow and harmonic spacing. “Flight Az 1734″ is a hard swinging tribute to the blues form and on “Hovering Above,” freedom is expressed in hushed tones.

The mixture of spontaneity with clear-cut harmonic construction is made possible by the symbiosis forged by Conly, Harding, Jones and Taylor. That makes Grass Roots’ first project fulfill the promise of its members, and then some.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Creating in the moment like their AACM brethren but with the lo-fi electronic effects of an indie act and other creative mashings, Taylor's Chicago Underground Duo continue with Age Of Energy to make the case for all the original sounding music that is possible by just two, open minded and innovative musicians.]

Grass Roots will go on sale October 9, by AUM Fidelity, now celebrating its fifteenth year of existence.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst 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. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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