Tenor saxophonist Tom Tallitsch has put together a tight, empathetic band for his second CD on the Posi-Tone label (fifth release overall). Ride (buy it from Amazon/download it from Amazon MP3) features nine of his own compositions and two covers—David Bowie‘s “Life On Mars” and Led Zeppelin‘s “Ten Years Gone”—performed by trombonist Michael Dease, pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Peter Brendler, and drummer Rudy Royston. Tallitsch’s music is easy to like; the melodies are strong and memorable, the rhythms are steady and energetic, and the solos are extrapolations, rather than drop-everything fits of improvisatory excess.
The opening title track is built around a simple, clarion-call hook that sounds like something John Coltrane might have written in 1959. Dease sits this one out, leaving Tallitsch to sprint atop the road laid down by Brendler’s race-walking bass and Royston’s powerful, cracking drums. (His snare sound on this album alone makes it worth a listen or ten.) Hirahara drops chords into place like a bricklayer, before taking off on a lyrical, McCoy Tyner-esque solo. The leader’s soloing is disciplined but aggressive, staying in the tenor’s lower range to the point of almost sounding like a baritone at times. This eruptive opener is followed, though, by the patiently explored “Life On Mars,” on which barely any amendments are made to the melody. Dease’s trombone offers swelling tones in the background, where strings would be on a rock record, and Royston’s clattering drums are almost a lead instrument. This track is so hooky and strong, it almost seems designed for radio play.
Three more originals follow: “Rubbernecker,” “Rain,” and “The Giving Tree.” In order, they are: another hard-bop swinger in the vein of “Ride,” with Dease again absent but Tallitsch and Hirahara going full-bore as Royston’s crisp snare goads everyone along; a swaying ballad that offers Brendler a solo spot, and finds the leader playing with his horn’s upper register, getting perilously close to soprano territory; and a strutting, almost Latin number on which the trombonist finally returns, but again, he’s only adding a harmonic voice, and doesn’t solo.
The version of Led Zeppelin‘s “Ten Years Gone” that kicks off the album’s second half is less slavishly bound to the melody than the version of “Life On Mars” was. The band takes the simple, crashing blues chords as a framework for some impressive soloing, with Dease offering a countermelody behind Tallitsch that sound earwormingly reminiscent of the chorus to alternative rock act Marcy Playground‘s mid ’90s hit, “Sex and Candy.” The next piece up, “El Luchador,” is Brazilian in feel, despite its Mexican-referencing name (luchadors are masked Mexican wrestlers), and marks Dease’s first full-on trombone solo. It’s a highlight of the album—he’s fast and technical, pumping out crisply articulated bursts of notes rather than the smeary tones the trombone’s mostly known for, while maintaining a tight grip on the song’s melody and rhythm.
“The Myth” is about as abstract and scribbly as Ride ever gets—on this track, the band moves away from the punchy, classicist-but-not-retro hard bop they’ve been exploring for most of the album, in favor of a more winding, complex melody line and a more expansive rhythmic approach that make me think of Woody Shaw. There’s something about this track that calls to mind acoustic jazz of the 1970s (though fortunately, we’re spared that bouncy rubber-band bass sound). Dease gets another solo on the somewhat woozy “Knuckle Dragger,” and he’s looser and bluesier, still unleashing flurries of crisply chosen notes at times but also going for long ribbonlike tones. “The Path” is another burner, and the album ends with “Turtle,” an atmospheric but swinging track that feels indebted to the adventurous Blue Note albums of 1963-64—Bobby Hutcherson‘s Dialogue, Andrew Hill‘s Black Fire, Grachan Moncur III‘s Evolution, and the like. Dease is the lead player here, and his full, heartfelt tone, as well as his ability to ride a melody like a champion surfer (with Tallitsch right beside him), makes this a perfect closer to one of the most purely pleasurable jazz albums of 2014 so far.