Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Listening Booth, week 47: Greg Ward's Phonic Juggernaut

  • Greg Ward: Greg Ward's Phonic Juggernaut (Thirsty Ear) - Chicago born, now New York residing saxophonist and composer Greg Ward's credentials indicate that he's a man of varied tastes and that he's a musician willing and capable of handling several genres, from various strains of jazz, to Klezmer and classical music. I know him best from his collaborations with drummer Mike Reed. This is Ward's second album as a leader after 2010's Fitted Shards: South Side Story -- which I missed -- on 19-8 Records. Phonic Juggernaut is a sax-bass-drums trio record, and an enthralling one at that. The impressive opener "Above Ground" moves through several stages, starting off with Ward's blocks of intervals over the hectic yet forceful polyrhythms of drummer Damion Reid, into pockets of near calmness, and then back again. Much like the album as a whole. Reid's drumming, which reminds me a little bit of Ronald Shannon Jackson, provides much of the sonic freshness of this record. The drums are very much front and center, almost relentless, throughout, and especially so on the more heady pieces. And Phonic Juggernaut is fast paced at times, as the name would suggest, but combines that with the spacious and lyrical, such as on the lovely "Velvet Lounge Shut-In". Bassist Joe Sanders is the minimalist in the trio, relatively speaking, working off and in between Reid's busy rhythms and Ward's sharp and clear alto leaps with a mixture of insistent vamps and lyrical playing -- check his melodic interplay with Ward on the closing "Sectionate City". The bass is mixed unusually low and given little bottom, and although I miss its fullness and punch at times, the result works remarkably well within the sonic whole of the record. I'm hoping there's more to come from this trio, because there's clearly a unique musical chemistry between the three. 7*

    Bonus: Listen to the title track, "Phonic Juggernaut", courtesy of Thirsty Ear Recordings on Soundcloud.

    * Grades are tentative, based on three or four listens, though quite often a few more. Much of the writing is done during listens, and should be considered notes rather than final reviews.

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