John Randall Pelosi
Somewhere along the line, most jazz musicians who were interested in actually earning a living at their craft realized that free jazz was better for dispersing crowds than drawing them, and moved on to explore less divisive variations on the form. Yet a few fiscally irresponsible stragglers have stayed true to their disorderly muse, creating a subterranean cult that has much in common with the artiest branches of underground rock. "Plus Ultra" makes this connection plain: It's adamantly a jazz disc, but its producer and best-known sideman (he plays guitar, Fender bass and cello) is Chris Stamey of the dBs, a critic's fave from a previous indie generation.
Pelosi and his crew -- standouts include bass violist Alex Hong and drummer Darren Jessee -- take great delight in genre-hopping, moving from "Solenoid," a spare, improvisatory skronk-fest, to "Boneyard Crow," a wild, New Orleans-type party on plastic, and back again. There are several tunes that might appeal to jazz traditionalists, including the lovely "Ballade" and the meditative "Walker." But Pelosi isn't all that interested in winning friends and influencing people, as he demonstrates on "Aquaviva," a thrilling noise opus, and "Bakalite," a quizzical miniature that mingles feedback and random atonality. His saxophone, which predominates, is capable of honking lows and Albert Ayler-like squeaks, and to his credit, he sees nothing wrong with cramming both approaches into the same measure just to see what will happen. Some observers will dismiss the result as music made for people who feel better when they're listening to stuff that almost no one else can understand, but that's not quite right; even "Li Nstro Cavallo de Battàglia," the nine-minute-plus challenge that opens this disc, has quite a bit of structure to it. Indeed, the album as a whole is a far cry from the total anarchy favored by the style's most outré practitioners. But what makes "Plus Ultra" stand out is its refusal to capitulate to hidebound traditions of any sort. Which is what freedom is supposed to be all about, right?
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