May 4 2016
Through the Badlands is an authoritative statement on the range that the unified influences of jazz, country and folk can aspire to. Crisp melodies are sometimes taken apart and reconstructed, and their reformation is no less attractive for the changes. And the rhythmic invitations to sway and sweep you off your feet don’t get all tangled up just because improvisations take the tempo to places challenging even for the fleet of foot. And a little twang and a dose of crying strings never poisoned the well of a deftly adapted saxophone solo. But the convergence of simple thoughts and grand proclamations can lead to crossed wires and muddy expressions, and it’s why those artists who successfully work the borders between jazz and country, folk & bluegrass stand out prominently on the modern scene.
Though a veteran of the scene, drummer Arthur Vint is just now releasing his first album where his name appears in large print on the album cover, and he makes his mark in this area with a clear perspective and unique voice. Through the Badlands is all charm, the kind of music you’d describe as “nice as pie,” but Vint’s wide-angle focus on the expansive jazz-country-folk horizon line allows him to incorporate the influences of each with disproportionate ratios while guaranteeing that each of those influences shine brightly from each album track.
The deep exhalations of melody on opening track “Radford” speak directly to the welcome patience exhibited with each expression, even during those times when the pulse rate spikes. For instance, the combination of Vint and bassist Ian Stapp shepherding the rhythm of “Maski” along to the beautiful sway of saxophonist Rich Perry‘s solo brings out the heart of a ballad on a tune that sticks to up-tempo speeds. And then there’s “LKP,” of which there’s no mistaking for anything but ballad.
The title-track infuses some spaghetti-Western action into a song that breathes the Southwest air of Tuba City and other tiny dots on the map marked by the great expanse of red rocks and barren soil. Tangentially, “Heyoka” hits that same spot, but adds the hustle and hipness of Big City life… a sort of ode to the travels of Midnight Cowboy‘s Joe Buck.
Other names of relevance: Ben Flocks, Kenny Warren, Jeremy Udden, Bill Frisell, Joe Cowherd, Brian Blade. All of these artists have had equal success in finding the sweet spots between the jazz, country and folk genres, and it’s the last three names on that list that are most relevant to this recording. Joe Cowherd is the pianist on this session, and the guitarist, Tony Scherr, has lent his voice to the music of all three.
A track like “Sagebrush” shows the intelligence that runs throughout this album. The song holds up its hand right from the start and announces, hey, I’m a country song, yet the harmonic balancing act of Yvonnick Prene‘s harmonica, Blanca Gonzalez‘s violin and Andrew Halchak‘s bass clarinet speak to the jazz spirit residing in this tune, as does Stapp’s walking bass lines. Vint uses “Kindling” to show how easy it is to stroll between the different genres while being as wildly expressive as you damn well please.
But perhaps the crown jewel of this album, and the best representation of the jarring effortlessness with which Vint’s crew embraces the varied influences is the rendition of Neil Young’s “There’s a World.” It leads right out the gate with the original’s unmistakable melody, but the entire delivery is one that echoes the hard bop era, eerily reminiscent, in fact, of how McCoy Tyner opens up with the bustling enthusiasm of “Passion Dance” on his classic 1967 recording The Real McCoy. But just as there’s room on this rendition for some fiery soloing by saxophonist Perry, Vint also weaves in passages that belt out the dramatic surges of the song’s country-rock origins.
A very smart, supremely enjoyable recording.
Your album personnel: Arthur Vint (drums), Rich Perry (tenor sax), Tony Scherr (guitar), Jon Cowherd (piano), Blanca Gonzalez (violin), Yvonnick Prene (harmonica), Ian Stapp (bass) and Andrew Halchak (bass clarinet).
Released on Ropeadope Records.
Listen to more album tracks on the artist’s Bandcamp page.
Jazz from NYC by way of Tuscon, Arizona.