This is the fourth album by drummer/bandleader Vinson Valega, and the first one I’ve heard. It’s a sextet session featuring three horns (alto saxophonist Anton Denner, tenor and soprano sax player Chris Bacas and trombonist Mark Miller), Matthew Fries on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Gary Wang on bass. It was released way back in December 2009, but I got it very recently.

This is at its heart a straight-ahead session, all originals except for a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Think of One.” It sometimes erupts into weirdness, though, which is good. It’s a lot of music to take in all at once—fifteen tracks in over seventy-three minutes, and that’s a strike against it in my book. Three of those tracks are vignettes, running less than a minute each and serving as intermissions of a sort. Some titles are ironic; “A Moment of Silence” never offers one—it’s a seven-minute showcase for the whole ensemble, including plenty of squawking from the various horns. There’s also what amounts to a medley: “Day by Day” and “Kathelin Gray,” the sixth and seventh tracks, blend seamlessly into each other. The former is a hard-swinging number that reminds me of Branford Marsalis’s work; the latter is a ballad that features Denner and Bacas sort of swirling around each other in a way that’s slightly shrill but also has moments of beauty. The entire ensemble is not heard on every track; “I Just Wanted to See What You Look Like” is a trio piece, and on “Always” Fries is absent. The album ends with the gently swaying “Doesn’t It Feel Great to Be Alive,” a question I might not always answer in the affirmative, but this piece would at least keep me around long enough to hear how it ends (hint: well).

Anyway, cynical japery aside, this is a good, self-released record worth your attention and your money.

Phil Freeman

1. Do I foresee myself listening to this record again? Yes.

2. Should you buy this record? Yes.

Link to purchase, if you’re so inclined…

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