Apr 29 2013
Even with the modern jazz trend of wandering great distances away from a song’s opening recitation of melody, it’s still quite typical for the musicians to return to the home base before the last note of the song has sounded. But for the Tunnel Six outfit, they take it a step further. Proficient in their use of dramatic introductory statements, they store that melody away, and rather than doubling back to it after the long journey of a song, instead, they simply remove it from their pack, and, intermittently, show it to the listener, as one would a photograph. They don’t so much return to home as simply display a picture of it during their course of their travels. It’s a big reason why so many of their tunes possess an epic quality, a sense of long distances traveled, far far away, even as they behave as songs that exist very much in the moment.
On their sophomore release Alive, the Tunnel Six sextet picks up right where they left off on their debut, the excellent 2011 release Lake Superior. Recorded at a series of live dates, Alive stamps in place the group’s development from the time they first met at the International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Banff, through their collaboration on their debut album, and now, as they set out for more.
Your album personnel: Chad McCullough (trumpet), Andrew Oliver (piano), Ben Dietschi (saxes), Tyson Stubelek (drums), Ron Hynes (bass), and Brian Seligman (guitar).
As also characterized on their debut album, Alive displays a level of group interplay belied by the relative short time this ensemble has been performing together. The seamless transitions between solos, the multi-tasking partnerships with rhythm, and the Rube Goldberg melodic directions at unexpected moments… they all point to a synchronicity that only becomes evident when one steps back from the music and attempts to separate the act of performance from the performance itself.
However, that’s not to say that there aren’t individual highlights, too. For instance…
“The Wagon and the Gun” starts up with an already classic Tunnel Six approach of opening an album with a promise of Epic Journey. The sextet works together to build the lullaby introduction up to a hurricane intensity, yet it’s when the soprano sax of Dietschi dips back into the wind tunnel to lay down delicate lines that keeps the song tethered to its brilliant opening moments. And then there’s “Up Hill,” in which Dietschi’s sax sharpens the blade of an edgy song.
“Heavy Weight” is characterized by its dramatic builds interspersed with punctuating solos. However, it’s bassist Hynes who shines here, by not just inconspicuously establishing tempo, but also acting as the melody’s disconnected shadow, providing some needed darkness to bright notes from guitar.
“Tales of Certainty” burns with a post-bop center of gravity orbited by McCullough’s soaring trumpet.
“Pinwheel” has a throwback sound, featuring Oliver and Stubelek on piano and drums and a nostalgic echo of the firecracker rhythms and cool blue stride of the “Take Five” days of Brubeck.
“Cowboy Song” delivers Seligman’s countryside charm on guitar and an implied twang, reminiscent of the Americana Jazz of Bill Frisell, but with Frisell’s rustic ear-to-the-ground pragmatism updated for a dreamy sensation of travel by sea.
Album finale “The Admiral’s Lament” offers a sense of finality. A sister song of album-opener “The Wagon and the Gun,” but where the latter expounds on the possibilities ahead, the former draws the curtain down, and begins the time for looking back on all that has come before. Like with any ending, it’s a little bittersweet, a little melancholic, and in possession of a warm, sincere smile.
A remarkable sophomore release, and already has me looking forward to what comes next.
The album is Self-Produced.
Stream (and purchase) the album at the artist’s Bandcamp page.
Not yet available on eMusic or Amazon. Links will be updated later.
And about their debut album Lake Superior, here’s a LINK to a review I pubbed on Bird is the Worm, and here’s a LINK to a review I pubbed on eMusic. A few years later, and I still think it’s one of the top albums of 2011. It’s got staying power.