There are a lot of expectations that come from a trio where each player has already established himself as a leader and composer, and so the Boom Crane band — Peter Van Huffel, Michael Bates and Jeff Davis — has a lot to live up to. Upon first hearing the muscular bass of Bates, Davis flogging a persistent swing beat into submission and Van Huffel topping it all off with a layer of cool refreshing alto sax, I quickly got the feeling that this band was gonna be as good as their individual names advertised.
And that was just from the first song, “More Room.”
Boom Crane — out June 10, 2014 on Fresh Sound/New Talent Records — is often tradition-minded, but not in the stuffy, shirts-tucked-in-pants kind of tradition. It’s a looseness that’s really required to make a trio missing full chords succeed, with each voice speaking just a little bit louder to fill the void. And it doesn’t matter who’s writing the songs, a chore evenly shared among them.
Ignoring strictly steady timekeeping and is another way the three keeps things dynamic and give the old form a sharp kick in the crotch. All three play the harmony and rhythm part of “Jest” together, like Ornette Coleman’s classic quartet would do. Think “Automatic Vaudeville” is your basic, walking bass stroll? Think again, it just went bossa nova, and now a full gallop; they’ll be more changes before it’s all done, but Boom Crane goes through them all together, leaving no one behind. “Not A Living Soul” gets even more temperamental, going from frantic to morose and back again.
“On Equilibrium” and “Talk To Me” are also bristling with tempos changes, the latter featuring Davis playing to the slippery bass figure and Van Huffel lead the way through the mood adjustments. “Boom Crane” is straight-up blues with the lively character of celebration; Bates’ bass aside is especially lip-smacking good. “Fast and Flurious” is what the last tune is; so dense, frenetic and carefree, it could be the soundtrack to an action cartoon. But the three-way intensity is no laughing matter.
Boom Crane doesn’t push up against the boundaries of jazz, nor does it seek to, but its clever, impish fun is contagious.