In the facile world or recorded music, ratings, awards and celebrity cult it’s rare to find intelligent thinking and inspired music-making. Anyone who cares for jazz music that transcends self-imposed limits should have a listen at LINES ABOVE, Rick VanMatre’s terrific CD of compositions by himself and Kim Pensyl.

Soulfully played by an ensemble featuring Aaron Jacobs on bass, Tom Buckley on drums, Rusty Burge on vibraphone and both composers, Kim Pensyl on piano and Rick VanMatre on soprano and tenor saxes and wooden flute, the CD is a joy to listen to.

The Summit Records release (DCD608) is cleanly engineered, edited, mixed and mastered by Kim Pensyl at Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music Jazz Recording Studios, classily packaged and produced by both Pensyl and VanMatre, and given enlightened program notes by VanMatre, who finds his inspiration in sources as diverse as the evocative artwork of Anna Socha, Rick’s wife and muse, in Man Ray’s experimental films and artwork and also – based on this CD liner notes – in western and eastern philosophies.

The sound of the ensemble assembled for this recording is flawless. Kim Pensyl’s playing is clear, free-flowing, technically beyond reproach. Rick VanMatre’s command of his three instruments nothing short of impressive, as in Solstice of Another Age, when he switches from wooden flute to sax without effort. Rusty Burge’s work at the vibraphone is virtuosic but always with not himself but the music up front. Tom Buckley’s agile ability on drums allows him to place himself in the background when called for and then rip into a fusillade of rhythms that bring to the mind the playing of Cuban conga players, as happens in Ray’s Return. Aaron Jacobs is rock solid on bass, always providing the foundation for everything happening in all eight tracks and stepping up to the plate with a lyrical solo in Pensyl’s I Had You In Mind.

VanMatre’s compositions occupy the first six of eight tracks on the CD. His creations straddle the worlds of  “classical” music and contemporary jazz, balancing both with seriously strong compositional technique and imagination. Pensyl’s style, on the other hand, as one listens to I Had You In Mind sounds like pure, cool, laid-back, easy-sounding, artfully-written jazz. But then, he turns the corner with Coming Back To Yesterday, a composition that begins with a recitative-like sax solo that then morphs into a race to the finish between Rusty Burge’s vibraphone and the rest of the ensemble. Luckily they meet at the end in the quiet finale of this lovely composition.

Ashes is a somber piece, and it took a great deal of courage to give it the closing track. This is eerie, meditative, contemplative, haunting music. The ensemble gives it a stunning reading. Dedicated to Jadwiga and Tadeusz, the composition is a profound meditation on loss, on cruelty, on rage and on the ultimate cleansing and redemptive power of music.

Rafael de Acha

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