Violinist and mandolin player Jason Anick‘s second CD as a leader, Tipping Point (buy it from Amazon MP3), is out this week. It’s a consistently intriguing blend of gypsy jazz and hard bop, with dashes of folk and bluegrass thrown in—particularly when he puts down the violin and picks up the mandolin. The disc’s 11 tracks include five Anick originals, and interpretations of six pieces from across the spectrum of jazz: Django Reinhardt‘s “Minor Blues,” Horace Silver‘s “Peace,” the standards “My One and Only Love” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” Hank Mobley‘s “This I Dig of You,” and Ornette Coleman‘s “Turnaround.” He’s joined by three different bands, with drummer Mike Connors the only constant. Jason Yeager or Matt DeChamplain are on piano for 10 of the 11 pieces; Greg Loughman and Adam Cote alternate on bass; Clay Lyons plays alto saxophone on five tracks, while Kris Jensen plays tenor only on “Turnaround.” That piece also marks the only appearance of electric guitarist Lee Dynes.

The disc’s first three compositions are all Anick originals, and though they shift gears, rising up and down (“Maryandra,” in particular, winds down with a lovely slow passage after some fleet playing from all involved), they’ve got energy to burn. The opening track, “Stomped Out,” is built around an extremely fast violin line that recalls Jerry Goodman‘s work with Mahavishnu Orchestra. He zings and ricochets around, as Yeager, Loughman and Connors hammer home the chord changes behind him—and behind saxophonist Lyons, whose playing is more grounded and bluesy than the leader’s. Connors is crucial to sustaining the feel of the music on Tipping Point; a drummer with a lighter touch would allow everything to risk flying apart, but he’s a hard hitter with a heavy stroke who provides swing and gravity throughout. “Minor Blues” offers the album’s only real lull, living up to its title; though the melody is tight and Connors smacks his drums with the brushes like a cruel parent, Anick’s  inventiveness is let down by DeChamplain, whose solo is a collection of licks and quotations pulled from the bag labeled “Crowd Pleasers.” The version of Horace Silver‘s “Peace” that follows perks the ear up again, beginning with a stateliness that’s quickly jettisoned in favor of near-hillbilly swing.

The album’s second half commences with two more Anick originals, “Occupy” and “This One’s for You”; the former has a dramatic intensity, as passages of mandolin are gradually filled in by a surging band; it reminds me of pianist Aaron Parks‘ 2008 album Invisible Cinema in the way it builds and releases, only to begin building all over again. The latter piece provides some compelling interplay early on between Anick’s keening violin and Connors’ thumping kick drum, with Yeager’s piano piling up Donald Fagen-esque chords to keep things from getting too romantic. The group’s take on Hank Mobley‘s “This I Dig of You” is a fun romp, and it leads cleanly into a version of Ornette Coleman‘s “Turnaround” that has more to do with conventional hard bop than the boundary-breaking music of his early Atlantic LPs. “Turnaround” is the most famous tune from Coleman’s pre-Atlantic music—it originally appeared on Tomorrow is the Question!, where he and Don Cherry were backed by bassist Percy Heath and drummer Shelly Manne, and Anick’s version, on which he plays electric mandolin and is joined by guitarist Lee Dynes and tenor saxophonist Kris Jensen, as well as Loughman and Connors, sounds inspired by Wes Montgomery as much as, if not more than, Ornette. It’s got swing and punch, but chordally and melodically it’s a little staid—the free-associative blues that was Coleman’s great contribution to jazz thought and feeling is mostly absent here, shrugged off in favor of simple traded fours and unison heads. It might have been more interesting to hear the group tackle a piece like “Ramblin’,” from Change of the Century. But the album’s final track, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” brings Tipping Point to a fantastic close. The best-known interpretation of this standard is likely John Coltrane‘s, from the 1960 Atlantic album Coltrane’s Sound, but this version is much jumpier and hyped-up than that modal exploration. It really explodes in its final minute, when pianist DeChamplain starts throwing Latin montunos at the listener out of nowhere, as the rhythm section grows ever faster and more antic. Jason Anick‘s music doesn’t strive to be the future, exactly, but neither is it mired in the past, despite the fact that none of the songs he chooses to interpret are less than 50 years old. By combining sounds and styles that may not be related, but that have clear affinities with each other, he creates a music all his own and one well worth a listen.

Phil Freeman

Watch a short video about the album:

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