The gap between free-form or semi-structured song forms and the art of melody making are generally two distinct entities, drawing upon numerous contrasts. Many artists merely hint at harmonically appealing theme-building motifs while incorporating dissonance, expansion and expressionism as vehicles for improvisation. Consequently, saxophonist Albert Ayler came up with a nouveau spin on free-jazz by morphing John Phillip Sousa like marching band motifs into a cloud of hot and heavy festivities. Yet, the avant-garde often signifies a region that is brimming with elusive implications. However, Baltimore, MD., based keyboardist Nobu Stowe sets himself apart from most of his peers within the avant strata by using melody as an adjunct or underlying premise for his compositional and improvisational ideology.
With these ten improvisations, Stowe and the band generate a sinewy portraiture amid polytonal sound sculptures. Guitarist Ross Bonadonna contributes buzzing single note lines, when acting as an accelerator to complement the rhythm section’s oscillating pulses. On "Premier Mouvement," Stowe morphs a bubbling flow by alternating between hammering block chords and invigorating phrasings while he also intimates a bit of old time rag-piano in the mix. And the musicians inject climactically-oriented story lines while veering off-center to conjure up notions of navigating through rush hour traffic and instilling a sense of calamity.
The piece titled "Deuxienne Mouvement," offers a mischievous yet sometimes, manic panorama, as the group takes the listener for a joy ride, spanning rock grooves and swarming breakdowns. Here, drummer Ray Sage tops off the turbulent movements with jangling bells to counter Bonadonna’s edgy and acidy e-guitar parts. However, Stowe’s penchant for melody is prominently conveyed during the lush, evocative and rather stately improvisational workout, "Blue In Green."
Lucid imagery of dodging enemy fire comes to the forefront with the explosive jaunt "Troisieme Movement." Moreover, Bonadonna alters the pace with funky wah-wah guitar treatments to augment his associates’ fusion of pathos and wit. Stowe’s clustering and memorable micro-themes occasionally hint at piano great Keith Jarrett venturing into hyper-mode, evident on "Quatrieme Mouvment," where Bonadonna performs on alto sax.
Stowe’s impressive discography gets an added boost with this gem. He’s most certainly one to watch, and possesses a signature methodology. It’s music with meaning, even when considering the wide-open challenges and frameworks that total improvisation brings to the proverbial table. Hence, a superfine engagement that offers additional insights on subsequent listens.