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Blowout's coherent, slow-simmering melodic jazz

Wednesday, Jan 8 2003
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In his early years, the young altoist Jackie McLean copied Charlie Parker perfectly -- right down to the heroin addiction -- before extending the bebop vocabulary on a series of stunning Blue Note albums in the late '50s and early '60s, combining bop and blues structures with new concepts such as John Coltrane's "modalism" and Ornette Coleman's "harmelodics."

While many young jazz musicians these days choose free-form noodling over McLean's innovations, several Bay Area acts have taken up the saxophonist's mantle, crafting coherent songs full of breaks, tension, and harmonic progressions. The East Bay's Married Couple has already established itself in this territory, and now Blowout, which performed with that band at last year's wonderfully bizarre Michael Jackson tribute night, "Thriller -- Inside Out," delivers its eponymous debut, featuring the kind of heavy horns and quick tempos that McLean typically exploded over, under, and around.

The fact that Blowout keeps listeners waiting for an explosion that never comes -- or at least, doesn't come with the controlled exuberance of a McLean solo -- is not entirely to the band's detriment. Not many living musicians could approach such outbursts, and it's all to the best that the combo proceeds with caution, preferring a slow boil to all-out cacophony. Blowout's first song, "Splash," penned by alto player Noah Enelow, begins with a simmering melody that builds by way of slashing, swinging horns. Instead of blistering solos, however, the various brass instruments -- including, as in McLean's best groups, a trombone, here manned by Rob Ewing -- meander into their own quiet, almost tentative soundscapes. Next comes a ballad titled "Flux," credited to bassist Aaron Germain, on which electric guitarist Brian Moran solos beside a pensive horn riff. Moran's composition "The Things We Do When We Sleep" follows, with a dirgelike theme developed to elaborate lengths by the guitarist, who provides the melodic undertow that Bobby Hutcherson's vibes supplied on McLean's classic albums.

All of the musicians -- who also include Zack Pitt-Smith on tenor sax and Joe Chellman on drums -- distinguish themselves not so much for what they contribute as what they leave out, restraining from making the pointless squeal or pseudo-virtuosic wail that characterizes so many first offerings in the modern-jazz world. And if this young band keeps going, the blowing is only going to get more "out" -- in the most complimentary sense of the word.

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David Cook

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