The Crushing Spiral Ensemble

The Count of San Francisco (Self-released)

The first minute of the Crushing Spiral Ensemble's second album comes out and grabs you by the wrist, dancing you around the room on a funky breakneck beat before you've caught your breath. The next two minutes are seductive -- as romantic and mysterious as a stranger with a rose between his teeth. Then bandleader Matt Small's bass starts bobbing again, and the drums and horns kick in with an insistent, madcap forward thrust. But the different moods don't end there, as each of the 12 songs on this self-released album has more layers than most novels, shifting effortlessly among klezmer, pop, rock, and improv jazz, all the while thriving on the constant thrum of Small's often electric, sometimes acoustic bass.

Of course, it helps that the horn parts that drift over Small's and Charming Hostess drummer Wes Anderson's odd-tempoed rhythms come from such strong players as Steve Adams (tenor and soprano sax), Phillip Greenlief (alto and soprano sax), and Tom Yoder (trombone). By filling the delicate space between the horns and the rhythm section, Yoder's sensitive, inventive play is especially effective. Songs like "Fall of You," a serene tour de force that sounds alternately melancholy and jubilant, trudge forward with a sadness so vast that it brings the feeling of the open sea right into the room with you.

Not many young people are daring to write so melodically -- Austin's Graham Reynolds of the Golden Arm Trio comes to mind -- yet Small really seems to have done his homework; his songs are supple and flexible enough to work with almost any instrumentation. Playing with a shifting cast of the Bay Area's finest improv musicians, Small infuses his quirky compositions with both breadth and intimacy.


Wednesday, Sept. 27, at noon. A San Francisco Jazz Festival-sponsored event. The concert is free; call 398-5655.
Levi's Plaza, Battery between Union and Filbert

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