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Tom McNalley Trio by Tom McNalley

To say 21-year old electric guitarist Tom McNalley has chops would be an understatement. To say McNalley plays free-jazz in long extended and far-ranging jams which vary greatly not only in tempos but also in dynamics would not be an exaggeration. To say his playing has serious leanings towards rock would be a prudent account of his work. Unfortunately, massive chops, lengthy open solos and hard-rock leanings do not necessarily a great recording make. To be fair, there are times in this six-tune set of freely composed music when the three musicians - McNalley, Swiss-born Jonas Tauber on bass and Ken Ollis on drums - really do heat things up and create true gems of musical statement. Unfortunately, there are also an equal number of times when the group loses direction, the result of which are unfocused musical ideas where none of the musicians are able to connect in meaningful musical discourse.

While McNalley is definitively a musician to watch in the future, this recording only shows him to be still working out ideas. At times he is able to brilliantly link disparate musical thoughts into an overall framework which is strong and tightly woven. There are, however, times when it sounds like he’s practicing - running different jazz-rock patterns with little connection to his rhythmic counterparts. One of the strongest moments of the disc comes in the middle of Orange Needle Society. The three musicians leave their blistering fast-paced opening section for a period of calm and repose. It is here where you really get a sense that the musicians are all cued into each other and do indeed create a true musical conversation. As they cycle and trade small motives around the group one hears the depth to which free-jazz can be not only meaningful, but complexly interwoven. On the other hand there are points where, such as during the beginning of ZHE, there is no common thread and each of the musicians struggle.

A special note must be made regarding Tauber’s astonishing bass playing. His lines are clear, focused and harmonically brilliant. He seems to be the one musician who is able to cue in on McNally the best. One wonders what the result of this collaboration might have been had he been the leader.

One last note regarding the sound quality must be made. Recorded in a live performance venue, Cappos Café, the sound is muddled throughout. Suffering the worst are Ollis’ drums. It sounds like his set had one only mic put on it. The drums all sound tubby and there is a true lack of definition to his stick work. Pulling the bass out of the mix during the loud and fast sections is distinctly difficult and McNalley’s guitar is not well served at those junctures as well.

This disc may, in time, prove to be historic if McNalley is able to follow up on his obvious technical talents. For now, it is a statement of a young musician wishing to explore free-jazz - one of the most difficult forms to master, let alone play well.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Tom McNalley
  • CD Title: Tom McNalley Trio
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: pfMentum
  • Tracks: Reddog, Orange Needle Society, ZHE, Mourned, Gallery 421 and Loss
  • Musicians: Tom McNalley (guitar), Jonas Tauber (bass), Ken Ollis (drums)
  • Rating: Two Stars
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