You know how one bulb goes out on a strand of Christmas lights and the whole strand goes dark? That’s because the lights are connected “in series.” Gavin Templeton makes the same observation in life and society in general: if one thing goes really bad, it tends to darken the outlook on everything around it. He saw that in the stark collision of material excess and poverty in the west side of Los Angeles, and he saw that in his new bride’s thyroid cancer threatening life itself (she’s cancer-free today). These lows — and a few highs — are such things that informed the alto saxophonist’s second album In Series.
Building an instrumental jazz album around a theme ain’t easy; there are no words with which to tell your story. Templeton’s confessional, or “therapy,” as he calls it, relies on feel to get the message out and that’s where In Series scores the biggest. This is modern, 21at century jazz that neatly incorporates elements of contemporary popular forms of music without impinging on the integrity of the music. Templeton, however, keeps one important element of jazz strong and pervasive on this album and that’s emotion. He also places a premium on musicianship. OK, make that two elements.
“Know Why” melody is complex yet catchy, like a Steely Dan song, brought to life by Templeton’s expressive alto over Matt Mayall’s straightforward rock beat. “Bug” is another uptempo tune, with twists galore like an organic drum ‘n’ bass from Mayall and bassist Sam Minaie swooping down to a dark 3/4 and back to brighter pattern again, and after a tight sax/guitar unison theme Perry Smith peels off for a quick-fingered guitar solo. Templeton finishes it off with a passion-filled solo of his own.
The passion from him is just as forceful on the somber and melancholy songs, too. “Inbox” is dark and a little menacing, countered by Templeton’s affecting, hopeful alto. Mayall undertakes improvisation chores himself as pianist Matt Politano plays the bare minimum chords during “The Other Shoe,” another serious -minded melody. “Palms” is a dirge that’s plenty worthwhile for the fluid guitar of Smith and Templeton deftly soloing through the changes. Templeton’s ode to his wife, “Karina,” is made sublime by the weeping quality to his alto, a sophisticated harmony, and the absence of clichés in both; it’s emotional but not sappy.
Some jazz musicians these days disregard the importance of passion and emotion in bringing weight their music; Gavin Templeton has not. Maybe the things that inspired him to make such an excellent album mean something only to him, but the music those things inspired has the ability to connect with listeners regardless. Every light in the strand shines for In Series.