Curtis Hasselbring — Number Stations
(Cuneiform Rune 356, 2013, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2013-09-25
If you're looking for blurry-lines jazz, where the boundaries between composition and improvisation are only approximate and the concept of "swing" is interpreted very loosely, Cuneiform has another treat for you in Number Stations. Curtis Hasselbring is primarily known as a trombonist, though it's his work as a composer that shines here. He is joined by two complete combos: The New Mellow Edwards, which includes Chris Speed (woodwinds), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Ches Smith (drums, marimba); and Decoupage, with Mary Halvorson (guitar), Matt Moran (vibes, marimba), and Satoshi Takeichi (drums, percussion); Hasselbring himself plays trombone and guitar. The two groups work at times together, at times separately, playing off each other, and at times together as one larger ensemble. In spite of the number of participants, there's a good amount of space in the music, and there are sections of improvisation that offset the composed parts. This music began with Hasselbring's receipt of an arts grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and there is a breath of freedom to the music that can perhaps be attributed to being freed of the need to meet any commercial expectations. Not that the result is in any way unpleasant — I find this music eminently listenable and quite a lot of fun. The mallet instruments present a frothy head to this brew, and there's a lovely balance between malty richness and hoppy bite. Number Stations fits right in with other recent outstanding releases in the same non-genre: Rob Mazurek's Skull Sessions comes to mind. As Mickey Dolenz once sang, "Take a giant step outside your mind." Hasselbring and company will be right there with you.
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