An imaginative, worthwhile release, Venusian Commute features a formidable trio in a variety of settings. Though led by guitarist Alex Domschot (and including four of his original compositions), the strength of the performances is often supplied by the rhythm section of Marc Johnson and Vic Stevens, who work impeccably well together.
The opening, epic (eleven minute-plus) track, "Sad Princess," strives for a kind of impressionistic ambiance and mostly succeeds. Domschot's Wyndham Hill-esque acoustic guitar phrases are interwoven with evocative, brooding string arrangements and spurred gently along by Stevens' staccatoed cymbal rappings. From there, the group settles into a more straightforward jazz mode with brilliant covers of John Coltrane's "Some Other Blues" and Jim Hall's "Two's Blues." While Domschot recalls the edgy effect-pedal style of John Scofield, Johnson and Stevens are putting on an absolute clinic behind him; these two tracks in particular are brimming with intuitive communication and creative energy. On "Some Other Blues," Johnson's bass purrs like a motor driving the well-oiled machine, while "Two's Blues" finds Stevens in the limelight, setting a furious percussive pace. "Coal Man," a tribute to Ornette, finally places Domschot's guitar theatrics on full display, particularly during a electric (almost metallic) solo, but it's Johnson and Stevens again stealing his thunder with a bass/drum solo that's far more interesting and artfully done. That said, the song is shot full of ideas connected in an angular and blistering format that more than upholds the spirit of its namesake.
Sandwiching "Coal Man" are two songs, "Gary's Theme" (written by Gary McFarland) and "Venusian Commute," which provide a softer dynamic to the eclecticism at hand. The playing here is somewhat nebulous at times, almost dreamlike, and generally less absorbing - although the title track does have a pleasant, mid-tempo swing to it. This does little to prepare the listener for the epiphany to come on the dramatic culmination of the album, "Teachers" Johnson begins by eking out a melody over the back-lit, reverb-drenched guitar chords before yielding to deeply etched, foreboding cello intonations. Along with Johnson's eventual return to the proceedings, Stevens bursts forth to bash the living tar out of his drum set, enhancing the dramatic effect of the piece.
It's little wonder that even after the comparatively low-key cover of the Beatles' "Fool on the Hill" (which features perhaps Domschot's most lyrical playing therein) to close the album, "Teachers" ends up registering as the most memorable component of the disc once it has stopped spinning. Besides showcasing first-rate musicianship all around, the strongest case for Venusian Commute can be made by this, the best example of Domschot's willingness to take chances and not rein himself or his considerable breadth of musical ideas in by adhering to a singular form.