Hawkeye is a web based release from an ensemble that goes by their names in lieu of a band name. They have been performing together as a cohesive unit for a year but before that had played together on other dates and in various configurations. Sam and Bryan have a decade long association and Chicago transplant Grant seamless fit in, further adding to the chemistry. The album is comprised of a program of all originals written by the band.
The title track starts with soprano, here played in a less nasal cadence than as sometimes occurs when a multi-reedist grew up listening to John Coltrane or Wayne Shorter. The piano takes over, playing the same stated melody as had been started by the sax, dropping back to comp behind the once again present horn. The bass here is more a sonic component adding to the aural mosaic and less a mere time keeping device. It has a deep yet buoyant tone. It is during the piano break under which hi-hats play that the over all tastefulness of the how and what in the band’s interplay really becomes apparent. Sam, who has never been about flash yet manages to make his bass sing, literally accompanies himself with a solo that refrains from cauterizing the listener’s emotions via an overly virtuosic statement. Here is an artist having fun and inviting the audience to enjoy his pleasure. The piece’s tension is realized at its end section where the horn alternates between long lines and a flurry of trilled notes before the melody is reinstated. The verging on aggression discordance, used sparingly at the piece’s end prevents the listener from becoming desensitized to it, the pinch of spice the makes the stew pop.
“Miraje” starts with a contemplative bright toned bass statement over which Grant’s piano enters on a cloud of shimmering notes. There is a definite cerebral component to Grant’s playing but not at risk of emotional involvement to the piece or the group/listeners’ engagement. Mas here plays flute, the melody mirrored by piano, a sort of delicate beauty created by the two voices in unison before a piano solo that differs from what was initially said by change of attack and tone. The song has a soft but not overly fragile feel to it, which is pleasant like watching a steady rain hit the façade of a beautiful building. As the piece ends, Grant races himself, an accurate scattering of soft pink-plink notes fading with the song. Clearly the band have a deep affection and understanding of the Free-Bop genre as best conceptualized by Miles Davis’ second great quintet but there is no restriction brought about by trying to adhere strictly to the genre’s rules nor artistic limitation by remaining only within its template.
The sound throughout the sixty one minute album is pristine but enveloped in ambient warmth which is sometimes lost in modern studios. One of the things which allows for the album to stand up to repeated listening is that many of the tracks switch emotional gears over the course of their execution. There is none of that obvious album construction (i.e. a cooker, followed by a ballad).
“Hanabi” is one of the longer tracks on the album and perhaps one of the pieces I most look forward to hearing live. It starts with Zen-like flute a sonic haiku over which percussion slowly and lightly interjects its wisdom. As the percussion maintains a more steady appearance bowed bass enters along with minimalist piano which adds to the piece’s overall feel of a ghost that moves like fog. The tension of the piece is never fully resolved which adds to the overall feeling of mystery.
Jazz is no longer a “young” art form. There are many genres and sub-genres. One is not better nor more important than another. What is important is that jazz stay a living, ever evolving thing. Here is a band to discover, not merely executing compelling versions from the cannon but forging ahead with new songs while managing to stay linked to the past, used as a Rosetta Stone of inspiration.
Mas Koga-soprano, alto sax, shakuhachi flute
Bryan Bowman-drums, tabla