Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review: More Than Imaginable - Ricky Sweum

I got wind of a saxophone player I’d never heard of before named Ricky Sweum from listening to an interview with him on the “Best Saxophone Website Ever.”  I then checked out Sweum’s website, listened to some samples I liked, and decided to check out his latest recording, “More Than Imaginable" (Ninjazz Records).

Sweum was a freelance musician in NYC; since 2003, he’s been in various Air Force jazz ensembles.  I suspect that the Air Force demands impeccable musicianship from any members of its bands, and, based on “More Than Imaginable,” Sweum fits this bill.   His sound is clear and strong and his technique is excellent, on both tenor and soprano.  Also, he’s one of those saxophonists (like Walt Weiskopf) who considers his composing as important as his playing and is equally competent at both.  All ten tracks on “More Than Imaginable” were composed by Sweum. 

The first track, “Earth Squid,” is a lively, up tempo tune, and Sweum’s playing is driving and fluid.  Pianist Ed Simon exhibits similar qualities in his solo, perhaps employing even more drama and progression than Sweum.  “Barry’s Barnacle Blues” is a clever, well-disguised blues.  Here, Simon solos first, sailing through the tune’s tricky changes.  Sweum follows on soprano with a solid, graceful solo.  “Sleeping Man” is an intense, up tempo, modal tune that has Sweum on tenor at his most Brecker-like, bending notes and screaming in the upper register (though without as much false fingering as Brecker would use).  Drummer Clarence Penn adds fills over a vamp before having the stage all to himself for a nice solo.  The title track is a slow, pretty ballad whose melody gets stuck in your head.  Both Simon and Sweum (again on tenor) play through slow and then double-time sections in their fine solos.  “Canyon Dance,” with Sweum back on soprano, is an upper mid-tempo, straight ahead tune, with Sweum flying through the changes and Simon displaying great chops while maintaining his expressiveness.  Bassist Dave Robaire solos before the tune ends with some nice improvised interplay between all the players. 

“Belonging” (not the Keith Jarrett tune) is a pretty composition played at mid-tempo, with Simon sounding Corea-esque and Sweum back on tenor.  “Kiva” is also a mid-tempo tune, giving the opportunity for Sweum (on tenor) and Simon to really dig into the tune with probing solos.  “Things You Think You Have to Do” is a languid ballad.  The solos from Simon, Sweum, and Robaire are fine and seem too brief.  “Chekhovian Circus Song” is an angular tune, both melodically and harmonically, with Sweum on soprano.  The album closes with “Kerabag’s Trance.”  This tune begins like a slow tango, with Sweum playing tenor, employing some screaming in the upper register like Jan Garbarek.  After Simon solos, Sweum continues in Garbarek mode, using dramatic note-bending, short bursts of melody, and more upper range screaming.  This is some of Sweum’s most interesting playing.  He should also get credit for not ending his album with a show stopper tune but rather something that leaves the listener wanting more.

“More Than Imaginable” is a work that has a lot of variety in its tunes, and Sweum’s playing is solid throughout.  The supporting work from Simon, Penn, and Robaire is very good, with Simon soloing at least as well as Sweum.  I find a bit too much uniformity in Sweum’s playing and a lack of risk-taking and suspense-building, but this is a minor criticism.  Based on “More Than Imaginable,” Ricky Sweum deserves to have his future work watched closely, as he clearly has the potential to be a great player.

Note: I downloaded this CD from the Ninjazz Records website, along with (at no extra charge) the CD photos, 51 additional session photos, and the PDF's of the sheet music for the CD's tunes.  This was a very nice deal. 

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