Some music is so hip you know, upon first hearing, there is no way it will ever find a large drawing. Like fine wine made in small reserves, it is to be savored when experienced. That is as candid a statement as can be made regarding the excellent compositional abilities found within the six-member band Blowout. Formed in 2000 with musicians gathered from around the San Francisco Bay Area, Brian Moran, a seven-string guitarist from New Jersey via the Berklee College of Music, is the, for want of a better term, voice of the band and produced this, their debut recording.
The compositions are all clever and sharp, witty and urbane, sophisticated and intricate, but most especially fun. While Moran is only one of the composers on the disc, along with drummer Jason Levis’ and bassist Aaron Germain’s combined three, his pieces do comprise four of the nine tracks along two other arrangements of semi-popular works. All of the compositions emphasize a true collective sound with no one instrumental texture predominating. The sextet sets itself up into a three-horn lead line (two saxophones and one trombone) with Moran, on the only chordal instrument, playing in a decidedly Bill Frisellish manner - implying chords rather than actually fulfilling their promise. The bass and drums are used more for color than actual time keeping.
The music on The Supporting Theory isn’t what you might expect reading the run-down listed above, and that’s due to the way Moran handles his instrument. For the most part he plays single note lines which allow the music to have an airy space and freedom of movement lacking in most jazz - think Kenny Wheeler’s Angel Song ensemble. There is a delicate transparency to the way the horns weave their lines and form harmonic associations which are all the more important because they don’t have to fight with any pre-conceived harmonic voicing in the guitar. For example, on Moran’s down-tempo arrangement of The Partisan he gives himself a quasi-Alberti bass-like figure on top of which light harmonic chordal interactions between the one sax, trombone and imploring flute are interacted. In the hands of any lesser an arranger this piece would have died an early death - but here and in Moran’s hands the music soars with the beauty of a rainbow. Who says you have to play fast and loud to make a strong and bold statement.
Many of Moran’s other works are just as delightful. Duplicity is a series of kaleidoscopic shifting rhythms within which are framed solos built around ostinati-like concepts. Dugueulasse starts with a parade-ish dirge before leaping into rhythmic abstractions.
The problem with the disc lies in the youth of the soloists. While the musicians are able to compose at a high level, their playing abilities and soloistic tendencies have not yet caught up with the maturity of their compositions and tend more towards the undeveloped and predictable. This is not necessarily a bad thing, yet, since each of the members is so young - they can’t be anywhere near their 30s. In this respect special mention must be made of Ring Around The Collar. This swinger leaps out of the speakers and shows Moran to be a soloist who portends great things. Time and tide will be the determining factor as to whether this group becomes an important part of the jazz fabric, but here’s to hoping they do.