By Brian Groder
When I teach jazz survey courses the avant-garde period is always the trickiest, because people have such preconceived notions about freer or experimental jazz. Brian Groder’s Torque is a great starter CD if you’re looking to stretch someone’s ears with more exploratory, yet accessible jazz.
Opening with the short, intriguing “Spellcast,” it is clear Torque will take surprising twists and turns, but will not shriek, or otherwise scare neophyte listeners. Groder has a remarkable advantage in his sidemen, Sam Rivers and Rivers’ regular trio-mates, Doug Matthews and Anthony Cole. Groder has played in Rivers’ band, so now having his support in a very prominent sideman role is a bit unusual, though not unprecedented (Miles Davis playing on Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else comes to mind).
Their empathy comes through in the strong interplay, particularly on “Behind the Shadows Part 1 & 2.” Listening to their compatibility is also a pleasure as they weave together the duet “Camouflage.”
While the playing is adventurous, it does not meander. Most cuts are around four minutes, and all have a focused emotional intensity. On a tune like “Involution” Matthews and Cole maintain a propulsive beat, behind inventive solos from Groder and Rivers. Groder also shows an effective use space on the austere bass-duet “Iota.”
Groder often plays muted, as on the sprightly “Jingo,” another trumpet-bass feature. Having backed up singers in Atlantic City bands (like Cole who backed up members of his family of famous vocalists), Groder obviously understands musical communication. He has conversations through his trumpet, rather than yelling at the top of his lungs.
Torque has challenging compositions, adventurous solos, and accessible swing. It is strong statement from Groder’s emerging voice and further solidifies the sterling reputation of the veteran Rivers. It is music that can reach both fans of the avant-garde and those who rarely venture beyond modal hard-bop, which is actually quite something to say.
(Torque has an official street date of January 15, but it is available on CD Baby and Groder’s website now, so you can start off the New Year with it spinning.)