Canadian Alto Sax Monster Richard Underhill’s Moment In Time is a Jazz Dream come true. It is a complete album, exhibiting all of the intensity, passion and grace of this rich history in the traditions of the true masters. There is no doubt that Richard Underhill’s excellent compositions will take their rightful place in the future book of standards. This album is a must have for any serious collector.
Underhill, 2003 Juno award winner (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy’s ®) for his solo debut "Tales from the Blue Lounge" formed two very forceful rhythm sections for this new outing which punctuates the heterogeneousness of his magnificent playing. The constant presence of virtuoso pianist Luis Guerra and tenor sax master Bob Brough along with splashes of guest musicians make "Moment in Time" a timeless wonder.
"Perry’s Place" begins our trek into greatness with bassist Graig Earle and drummer Daniel Barnes laying down a powerful swing set for the hippest melody this side of the Potomac and then it’s right into a charismatic solo by Guerra, followed by a powerful statement by Underhill. Earle takes an opening bow on his towering bass with some fabulous co-signing by Barnes and you immediately understand that you just walked into a fabulous evening.
But wait. The very next tune, "Day Off" trades rhythm spaces with Mike Milligan on bass and smooth stickster, Joe Poole in the drum chair. With the addition of Brough harmonizing and schmoozing in on his fat tenor, the mood deepens, but swings just as hard.
Back to position one on the third offering "A Few Things" and the first band picks up where they left off when we arrived. Cuban born Guerra’s playing is exceptional in every respect. Whether he’s comping or soloing, he’s always in the pocket with fresh perspectives to add to the harmonic palette. The combination of Underhill and Brough is a tight fit and Bob gets to show his prowess as the band moves over and lets him go.
"Morse Code" has all the chroma of a frantic forest fire. It’s an unstoppable fury that destroys everything in its path. The static team of Earle & Barnes provides the perfect storm for the lightening hot Luis Guerra to move from staggered 8th notes to vigorous solos as the mad saxophonists try to quell the drama to no avail, so they end up joining the may lay. Drummer Daniel Barnes playing here is beyond intense. It’s psychotic with a control factor reminiscent of Max Roach. His alternating stick-n-brush work is marvelous. Pure Heat. This is my favorite track.
"Will of the People" follows. And just in time, too. It’s a poignant, thoughtful mid-tempo ballad to smooth things over while you try to recollect yourself. But this doesn’t mean the tune doesn’t have its own heat. After an assuaging 90-second introduction, the band settles on a recurring 4 bar obbligato that contemplates tension over tenderness. The saucy percussive textures provided by Joe Poole are perfect suspensions beneath the arc of Afro Cuban and traditional rhythms. Underhill delivers a smoldering solo and once again Luis thoroughly engages us in yet another profound solo.
At this point it’s probably best that I slow down and point out how intrigued I am with the genius of pianist Luis Guerra. At just 21 years old, this man is a prodigy. He’s Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and Ahmad Jamal in one body. His playing is well beyond his years and I am looking forward to the inevitable solo album bearing his name as this unsung hero has an incredible gift to contribute to the world of jazz.
The next track, "Chasing The Sun" is my second favorite. The introduction of trombonist William Carn adds a new dimension to the evening and provides a robust punch to Barnes’ snap happy snare. Earle’s lanky bass romps along square in the pocket as Guerra dances all through the groove. The great thing about an Underhill composition is his approach to pacing. He knows how to stir up a groove, slow it down to a simmer and then allow it to boil in its own energy. The pace of this as well as the other tunes on this album is acutely synergistic.
"Waiting for Something to Happen" rolls right into focus without warning and expresses the aforementioned pace I just spoke to. You can feel the stretch of the elastic measure as emphasized by Milligan’s pliant bass. He grants us insight to his approach with a remarkably snug solo, which while delicate, tugs at our imagination. The swing of this song is irrefutable. The band weaves in and out of tempo - from none to mid to fevered & cascading and back. Anything can happen as Luis’ piano asserts. The playful motif after his solo provides ample ground for Poole to explore before climbing back onto the magnetic melody for the ride home.
"Traffic" is pure fusion. And pure fun! And this time Milligan and Poole hang around for the ride. The tune is as light and airy as it is deep and cunning. Everyone gets a turn at the wheel as we whisked about the city, sometimes a little air bound, but always with our eyes open. The scene is Downtown Toronto and you might get bumped if you’re not paying attention, but Poole’s careful drumming and spirited solo navigates us through the underpass without a scratch. I particularly love the interplay between the ‘car horn beeps’ and the drums. Ingenious. If I were forced to pick a third, this would be it!
We slow down again at "3 AM." Our early morning (or very late night) tryst is introduced by Captain Guerra and once again the participation of Carn’s vibrant trombone adds a unique flare, this time with solo firmly in hand. This song is smothered in elegance and you wish all after hour joints were as plush. Earle’s nimble playing caresses your senses and makes you forget about sunrise. This is the ‘moment in time’ Underhill must have been referring to.
The album ends with "Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?" an ode to a day of celebration where, according to Underhill, the city of Toronto "shook off our digital shackles and became a small town again." This song is pure Crusaders music, circa 1977. Luis assumes a Fender Rhodes piano and Earle is joined by guest drummer Davide Direnzo, whose cymbal work, rimshots and starlit snare construct a festive climate in which fellow invitees, percussionists Jono Grant & Samba Elegua, along with additional tenor saxophonist Chris Gale join Carn and the crew in the middle of the street for a late night parade.... makes me want to shut off my computer for a day! NOT!
From beginning to end, "Moment in Time" is nothing but pure delight. Every song is fresh and unique with a story all of its own. The one dynamic that is continually inspiring as I replay the music over and again is Underhill’s use of the alternating rhythm sections and how they are sequenced throughout the album so each song possesses its individuality though you never lose context or structure. The recording and mix is flawless and the ‘sound’ of the record is as warm as early June. You hear and feel every nuance and texture no matter how intense the band’s playing, you maintain a solid footing throughout.
When I became interested in writing reviews, I wanted to make sure that I spotlighted indie musicians, who for the most part are still under the radar of the masses. When I listen to exceptional composer/musicians like Richard Underhill, I am very glad I chose this path, for I am thrilled to present his music to you. Happy Listening!