Tenor saxophonist Dan Pratt has been leading this group for close to a decade; its debut CD, Springloaded, was released in 2003. Toe the Line is the quartet’s first CD on Posi-Tone, a retro-ish label I’ve started to really admire. They focus their attention on groups that mix modernity and classicism, that swing hard and have a feel for the blues but demonstrate a willingness—and sometimes an eagerness—to stretch the boundaries of post-bop. The result is a catalog full of unassuming gems like this one.
In addition to Pratt, this quartet features Alan Ferber on trombone, Jared Gold on organ and Mark Ferber on drums. The absence of a bass player gives the music a jumpy, not-quite-anchored feel that’s emphasized by Ferber’s drums, which are mixed with lots of room sound and a sharply ringing snare. Pratt and Ferber are a tightly bonded team, charging through melodic heads and offering each other intuitive harmonic support. The unison lines of “Doppelgänger,” with Ferber meeting Pratt’s saxophone at the bottom of the trombone’s range, are hypnotic and gripping. Gold’s organ is occasionally more hockey-rink than roadhouse, but at least he’s not a psychedelic explorer like Larry Young; he chugs along beneath the horns, letting them do most of the work and only occasionally erupting. His florid, half-gospel/half-soap opera performance on the ballad “The Star-Crossed Lovers” can’t be overlooked, though, and he totally dominates the title track. And on the closing “After,” which begins with an unaccompanied solo from Pratt, everyone sinks knee-deep into passionate, churchy blowing.
This is a really solid, hard-grooving album featuring excellent performances by four guys who’ve had a long while to get to know each other and figure out not only each player’s individual strengths, but how to combine those in surprising and impressive ways. Toe the Line does anything but. Highly recommended.
1. Do I foresee myself listening to this record again? Oh, yeah.
2. Should you buy this record? Absolutely.
Link to purchase, if you’re so inclined…