Bassist/composer Omer Avital has always been something of a free-spirit; exploring the full sonic terrain of his bass and encouraging a vibrant, communal approach through his writing. These tendencies are highly evident on Room to Grow, an energetic live set recorded at Smalls in New York City in early 1997. The session features saxophonists Gregory Tardy, Myron Walden, Grant Stewart, Charles Owens and drummer Joe Strasser.
From the opening cadenza of "Kentucky Girl" it’s obvious that Avital is in total control of his instrument; manipulating with ease the full range of the bass. The absence of a chordal instrument on this session allows Avital the freedom to execute low drones, percussive high-end fills and chordal embellishments. With the presence of four very strong saxophone soloists, Avital seems content at providing strong and provocative accompaniment; however, his blistering lead lines on Cole Porter’s "It’s Alright With Me" are evident of a firm disposition towards horn-like melodic execution.
The saxophone front-line is given, as implied by the title, plenty of room to grow. Walden’s screeching alto playing is drenched with unrelenting passion and climactic development. His solo on "Kentucky Girl" is a super-charged emotional romp that stands out as a disc highlight. Tardy weaves his tenor through John Coltrane’s "26-2" with swinging ease and adds a welcome textural change with exquisite clarinet playing on "It’s Alright With Me." Owens and Stewart both possess a strong, individually focused sound on the tenor with original, acrobatic ideas.
Strasser is a forceful presence throughout the session; the torrid drummer supplies fiery, yet nurturing support behind each soloist and contributes a ton of colorful, bombastic fills.
Room to Grow may be ten years old, but sounds as fresh as anything being recorded today. Avital’s music perpetuates an extremely high level of energy; the result is a whirlwind, musical joy-ride.