The Burn List is a summit meeting of Seattle’s Best … the best progressive jazz (aka “New Music”) musicians, that is. The vibrant and overlooked scene has consistently provided music that probes the contemporary boundaries of jazz, and often locates the best areas of overlap between jazz of new styles of music.
Burn List (on sale May 18, 2014) melds together some of these styles as threads that weave together so thoroughly, it gets difficult to pin an apt name for this music, although many times Dave Douglas’ electro-acoustic Keystone band pops up in my mind a lot whenever I listen to this record. Perhaps that’s why it’s called “New Music.” But that’s a good problem to have, because the music holds up. The guys holding up this music are tenor saxophonist Greg Sinibaldi and ex-Pat Metheny Group trumpeter Cuong Vu up front, and keyboard player Aaron Otheim and drummer Chris Icasiano bringing up the rear.
Otheim is often the canvas that Vu and Sinibaldi paint on, offering up the framework that the two use to mold a song into a defined shape. Or, quite often, shapes. The first motif from “Burn List,” the song consists of horns contrapuntal with the keys, and for catchier second motif the horns are contrapuntal with each other instead. A third section slows it down to a celestial peace.
“Chau” is also a collection of discreet moods: Otheim starts with a repeating figure and varying it and then the song opens up for Vu’s soaring flights bringing the song to the top of its arc. But there’s more; Otheim begins a new figure the rest of the band builds upon at a more plodding pace. “Wire Cloud” strikes a good balance between structure and instinct. There’s a chamber music quality in the songs construction, with room left for improv extensively from Sinibaldi, and the piece loosens up from that point on.
“I Took A Fall,” performed in the video above, is a rocking march up a scale of minor chords. The interplay between Vu and Sinibaldi is almost clairvoyant, and Otheim kicks off a second motif, this time at same pulse.
Otheim steps forward for “Schmucklehead,” delivering a nasty grungy keyboard solo. Icasiano comes oh so close to swinging, but he consistently drums with deft elusiveness. Then there’s a three-part unison part that’s sinuous, and Sinibaldi’s sax solo is funky and tough. Vu nudges his way into the party with his own unhinged aside. The song disintegrates into a bowl of Jell-O before rising up again to reassert itself.
Challenging and easily embraceable at the same time, Burn List represents Seattle’s edgier notion of jazz, and represents it well.