Rob Reddy – Citizen Quintet (2016)

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Some jazz cats play entirely by feel, others by composition; for his eighth treatise of music Citizen Quintet, sax guy Rob Reddy does it both ways. Reddy is a veteran soprano saxophone master who also composes, leads groups and — perhaps a little too infrequently — leads recording dates. But that seems to be changing seeing that this latest release comes only about a year after his Bechet: Our Contemporary tribute.

Reddy’s mission of striking the right balance between letting the composition and the performance do the talking starts with the people he chose to perform these compositions. His “Citizen Quintet” starts with Dom Richards (double bass) and Pheeroan AkLaff (drums), who go back a quarter century with Reddy as members of Reddy’s early ensemble, The Honor System. John Carlson (trumpet) and Brandon Ross (electric & acoustic guitars), meanwhile, carry on The Honor System’s formula of throwing in a volatile electric guitar to clash with a small horn unit, underpinned by an assertive Richards/AkLaff rhythm section.

The creativity comes not just in how the written parts and improvised parts mesh within songs, but how the tactics change between songs. One front line performer plays a motif over and over while the other two play a competing harmonic part at half the tempo, but for “Duck Duck Goose” it’s Reddy assuming the main motif while on “Forsaken,” Ross undertakes that role. With its sax/trumpet declaratory statements serving as touch point between solos, “Right As Rain” bears no small resemblance to Ornette Coleman’s classic quartet, but with Ross swerving rock guitar adding an extra dimension to it. Meanwhile, Carlson’s sharp jabs resemble Wadada Leo Smith, whose forceful drummer for several of his own ensembles is shared with Reddy’s Quintet.

“Without A Paddle” turns the blues on its head, projecting the blues’ downbeat demeanor as they mutate it into angular, loose shapes. “Time Smells Good” begins with a hushed but ominous march, majestic horns are vaguely Spanish in flavor. In stark contrast to the rest of the album, it stays tame and tempered all throughout. Reddy’s emerges with a brief but enticingly exotic sax turn that nods toward India, followed by Ross’ glistening, fragmented guitar.

On “Redemptive Grace” Reddy combines and pulls apart harmonic folds around an idea he introduced himself on sax at the beginning, giving Richards much sway to keep the song grounded as everyone else swirls around it. It goes through passages of varying levels of agitation reaching its crest when Ross shreds at around the center point. “Paralysis Of Analysis” opens with Carlson’s pure-toned trumpet, soon challenged by raucous bebop from the rest of the group. Carlson comes back after the rebellion is temporarily subdued to deliver a masterful monologue.

The album’s opening salvo “Hear Me” is built around a repeating figure strummed out quietly on guitar, but no one else is being too quiet, playing around this figure with reckless abandon, reappearing two more times as brief reprises at the middle and the end of the record.

Citizen Quintet imposes itself as more than just a collection of songs but as a creature: inhaling, exhaling, always moving in crooked paths while always finding its way home, displaying evolving emotion as it bursts with complexity. Rod Reddy, as only few others before him have, found ways to make music sound so exhilarating and free within the guideposts of premeditated harmony and melody.

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