Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: She Likes That - Geoff Vidal

She Likes That is the somewhat brief (at just over 47 minutes) debut recording of tenor saxophonist Geoff Vidal (that’s the only horn he plays on this recording).  The recording starts off with “Darjeeling,” an upper mid-tempo tune with a clever melody.  Guitarist Joe Hundertmark starts off the improvising, playing a good solo with a slightly distorted, Kurt Rosenwinkel-ish sound.  Then Vidal takes over, displaying a big, attractive sound on tenor, strong like early Sonny Rollins but a bit softer and prettier, with a nice “liquid” quality.  His phrasing is fast and mostly straightforward except for a few curves he throws in, including some Brecker-isms.  He gets some nice support during his solo from Hundertmark and drummer Makaya McCraven. 

“Different Planes” starts off with pretty bass strumming from Michael O’Brien and has an intricate, Pat Metheny-esque melody line in a tricky meter.  O’Brien plays a folksy, melodic solo showing off some good chops, with more fine accompaniment from McCraven.  Hundertmark then plays a nicely varied solo, with clean lines interspersed with chords.  Vidal then plays a calypso-style duet with McCraven, moving into an exciting and elegant solo.  McCraven then takes the spotlight with a fiery solo, with guitar and bass accompaniment.

On “O-zoning,” trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt and Vidal hammer away at the multiple eighth-note melody, in what seems to be 7/4 time.  The melody is good, but there is an added challenging unison line with trumpet and sax, which seems like overkill.  Hundertmark plays a self-assured solo with a reverb-y, steel-hard tone, showing a lot of control over his instrument.  Vidal enters softly with his improvisation with a slightly funky feel which then builds to a strong statement.  Then Greenblatt and Vidal repeat a phrase as McCraven solos.  “Time Apart” starts off with Vidal playing a cappella, showing off his warm, full, breathy tone.  The cut’s melody is hard to pin down.  Hundertmark plays a brief solo, then Vidal takes another impressive solo turn, but overall the cut doesn’t hang together very well.

“Free Diver” is another odd-metered and somewhat awkward tune, with Vidal and Greenblatt playing at the start, first in counterpoint and then in harmony.  Vidal solos, showing off some impressive altissimo playing, with more good accompaniment from McCraven.  Vidal and Greenblatt then improvise in tandem.  McCraven plays especially well throughout this tune.  “Lanusa” is a laid-back, pretty, minor key tune.  Vidal glides through the changes in his solo.  Hundertmark then takes over, employing a ghostly, echo-y tone.  After a strong statement of the tune’s theme, Vidal and Hundertmark improvise in tandem. 

The recording ends with “She Likes That,” a tune with a somewhat murky theme, which Greenblatt and Vidal play in unison.  Then a groove kicks in and trumpet and tenor play a different (and, to my mind, unnecessary) theme first in unison, then in counterpoint.  Then Hundertmark hijacks the show with a high-speed, distorted, slightly demonic solo that’s really good.  Trumpet and sax come in to accompany Hundertmark, and they seem out of place in contrast with the wild guitar solo.  Vidal and Greenblatt then improvise in tandem.

Vidal’s band mates on She Likes That do a great job, and Hundertmark is an excellent foil for the saxophonist, possessing loads of improvisational skill.  The compositions are a mixed bag; “Darjeeling,” “O-Zoning,” “Different Planes,” and “Lanusa” work well, while “Time Apart,” “Free Diver,” and “She Likes That” seem to try too hard and suffer from an overall lack of tightness.  But one thing is for sure: Vidal is a hell of a saxophone player.  He effortlessly rolls out clear, ear-catching phrases with a cushy sound that fills up your earphones, his style containing hints of Donny McCaslin’s virtuosity and Ralph Moore’s smoothness, and he has superb control over the altissimo register.  While I hope Vidal’s next recording is stronger compositionally, I fully expect great things from him as an improvising saxophonist.

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