Nov 14 2013
Every year, there are a handful of outstanding albums that offer up brilliant melodies that reveal, one after the other, like massive fireworks at a celebration. The kind of thing that lets the ear immerse itself in the current song while anxiously wondering what the next might bring… and when it finally arrives, experiencing no less surprise at its strength or vibrancy, even when taking into account the album’s impressive track record.
The Head of the Circle, the new release by drummer Tim Horner is one of those albums for 2013.
Your album personnel: Tim Horner (drums, percussion, vocal), Joe Locke (vibes), Jim Ridl (acoustic piano), Steve Allee (accordion, Hammond B3, Fender Rhodes), Ted Nash (tenor & soprano saxes, bass clarinet, flute), and Dean Johnson (acoustic bass).
In a touch of irony, this album opens with an interlude that is more about rhythm, lacking any substantial melodic intent. The dramatic burst of flute slips into percussive murmuring, a conversational aside that serves as a precursor to an album of direct statements and on-message melodies.
“The Dance” gets right to it. A beautiful melody stated with just the right touch of gravitas, developed with a masterful touch by vibraphonist Joe Locke and bass clarinetist Ted Nash, who balance one another out like the light and dark halves of a crescent moon, and add to the song an inspiring loveliness to match.
“Awakening” is no different in terms of its melodic effusiveness, but this time the composition is presented with an uninhibited casualness that makes it so easy to just sink into. Ridl and Allee trade notes with one another when they’re not creating individual tethers to the other cast members. It creates an intoxicating sonic crosshatch. And it seems only natural when Horner and Johnson steer the song into a bit of a groove, as if the melody had been leading up that moment right from the start but chose to delay the big reveal.
“Listen and You’ll See” and “Requiem” are two views of rainy-day music. On the former, it’s a view from a window as the storm comes down. On the latter, it’s stepping outside as the storm reaches its conclusion, with Nash’s sax as a ray of sunlight cutting through the clouds.
The ballad of “I Wish I Knew You” has sax and vibes walking hand-in-hand on separate paths, an incongruity and connectedness that makes for an exquisite compare and contrast. That effect continues of “Mandala,” an up-tempo track that, curiously, comports itself with a brooding disposition.
“Frugal Meal” features Johnson using his bass to shape the melody in that way shadows shape the sunlight when it touches solid ground. Nash’s bass clarinet sings with a resonant loveliness at the same moment the song becomes increasingly chipper.
“The King” lets the group blow off some steam, allowing the groove to carry the melody for a change, and raising the album’s temperature a degree or three.
The album ends with the same bit of irony with which it began. “Ta Da” is, easily, the most free of any of the album’s tracks, pushing back against the concept of form as if a revolt by rhythm against the structural confines of melody. Locke and Allee trade jabs on vibes and Rhodes while Horner’s drums strike furtively, both as a whisper and with a bang. Ultimately, by sandwiching all of those strong melodies between two tracks built on foundations of rhythm, comparatively, it illuminates their beauty all the more.
Released on the Origin Arts label.
Jazz from the Jersey City, New Jersey scene.
Download a free album track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist and label.