30 March 2010

Review: Magnolia

Ian Tordella

In case you were wondering, there is good jazz to be heard in San Diego (as if that town needed anything else going for it). Ian Tordella, a DC transplant and former student of Charles McPherson, brings us proof with his debut album, Magnolia. Tordella's chops are apparent throughout the album, but what separates this album from most other debuts is his restraint. Rather simply than showing us everything he can do with his horn, Tordella creates some wonderful melodies and solos which employ thematic variationand make enough use of negative space to keep things interesting.

The opening track, Magnolia, gets the album started on the right foot. Tordella plays a bouncy melody over a nice groove of simmering straight eighth notes. Underneath Tordella's ensuing solo, the rhythm section slowly works up to a nice boil, pushing Tordella into full gear without overheating. Pianist Florian Weber matches Tordella's subdued feel, beginning his solo with a series of descending quarter notes which add a dense harmonic complexity, cleansing the palette before moving into a more melodic mode. Bassist Jeff Denson provides a nice platform for the soloists, mixing in pedal points in some places and pushing the soloist with a strong undercurrent in others.

The fourth track, The Way Through, is the highlight of the album. Following a mellow introduction by the full ensemble, Denson and drummer Brian McLaughlin initiate a tasty 5/4 riff which feels incredibly intuitive but still manages to throw the listener for a loop. The riff also provides a nice vamp-like background throughout the tune, giving the soloists ample room to explore.

Florian Weber is a pleasant surprise throughout the album. His solos feature a delightful rhythmic complexity . On The Way Through, he shifts from a flurry of sixteenth notes to a jagged syncopation which sounds like he is playing the same line of sixteenth notes with a few tones dropped out at random, creating a wonderful effect. But this is clearly Tordella's showcase, and he makes the most of it. Once the Padres trade Adrian Gonzalez (as expected), I think it will be safe to say that Ian will be one of the best things going in San Diego.

Bonus Material: Ian and the boys play The Red Dot in the studio:

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Track Listing: Magnolia; D's Melody; Liam's Song; The Way Through; Shadow Dancing; The Red Dot; The Fall Guy
Personnel: Ian Tordella, tenor saxophone; Florian Weber, piano; Jeff Miles, guitar; Jeff Denson, bass; Brian McLaughlin, drums

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