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Richard Kamins reviews Travis Sullivan “New Directions”

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Alto saxophonist-composer Travis Sullivan is, perhaps, best known for his 18-piece big band, Bjorkestra, an ongoing project in which he reimagines and reshapes the music of the Icelandic singer/songwriter and notorious shape-shifter.   In the midst of that heady project, one might forget that he himself is a strong writer and talented musician.

New Directions” should and will open eyes and ears to Sullivan’s ability to write for a small ensemble.  Joined by Mike Eckroth (piano), Marco Panascia (bass) and Brian Fischler(drums), Sullivan creates music that keeps the listener on his/her toes because not only is there a strong rhythmic pulse on most tracks but also what they play is involving, melodic and seeminglty without artifice.   “Jamia’s Dance” opens the program and sets the stage with its handsome melody, shifting rhythms, the leader’s sweet tone and Eckroth’s piano work that is both powerful and impressionistic. It’s the interplay of the rhythm section, the pianist’s ability to color the music and Sullivan’s vibrant alto saxophone that stands out. Even the sweet take of “Spring Is Here” displays a maturity of thought, no one rushing the beat, the long tones and “singing” quality of the alto and the truly complementary work of the rhythm section. And the emotional content of these pieces make them stand out – these songs are not just exercises in technique. Instead, they tell musical “stories”, are constructed so that one can’t miss the melodic content but also can hear how the solos grow from the thematic material. The other “cover” tune is a snappy take on “Everybody Wants to Rule The World“, the 1985 hit for the British duo Tears for Fears.  This is music that is alive and makes one think how good the quartet must sound in a “live” setting.

One other aspect stands out (for this reviewer) – these 10 songs are so rich with ideas that one does not immediately reach out for comparisons (i.e., Sullivan sounds like “fill-in-the-blank”, his writing is influenced by”so-and-so”.)  Just listen. Enjoy the lightness of the interactions, the heat of the solos and the quality of the work.  To find out more, go to www.travissullivan.com.


Written by editor

May 20th, 2011 at 8:00 am

Posted in Reviews

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