The quintet project Tilting Curvaceous is saxophonist/composer Patrick Brennan‘s sixth leader/co-leader date since the late 1990s. His duo recording Terraphonia (Creative Sources Recordings, 2019) with guitarist Abdul Moimême demonstrated a strong affinity for free improvisation within unconventional settings and uncommon concepts. Brennan is joined by trumpeter and flugelhorn player Brian Groder. The native New Yorker has been a long-time fixture on the NYC jazz scene and has devoted a significant part of his career to the frequent use of free-form styles. His work includes original film soundtracks and multi-media presentations.
The remainder of the group has shared stages and studios with a who’s-who of jazz. Detroit-born pianist Rod Williams has performed and recorded with David Murray, James Carter, Lester Bowie, Dewey Redman, Steve Coleman, Geri Allen, Henry Threadgill, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and many other top tier creative artists. Bassist Hilliard Greene has worked with Jimmy Scott, Cecil Taylor, Don Pullen, Steve Swell, Gebhard Ullmann, and Barry Altschul. Drummer Michael TA Thompson has played with Matt Lavelle, Sabir Mateen, Ken Filiano, and three groups under the late trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez.
Tilting Curvaceous is challenging on multiple levels; for one, the music is undeniably complex. Beyond the multifaceted improvisations, Brennan’s compositions cohesively knit together large portions of jazz history. The fourteen pieces are relatively brief—half under three minutes—and consecutively numbered segments of a “tilting curvaceous” umbrella. In his liner notes, Howard Mandel states: “This album is also a suite of inter-related movements—separate, comparable, able to be curated for playlists or broadcasts.” A start-to-finish listen paints the complete picture that Brennan has envisioned. “1” opens as a difficult melody that transforms into a more volatile version of its initial structure. Williams’ elegant piano contrasts with Groder’s growling trumpet on “2” leading to Thompson’s driving beat and dueling horns on “3.” Further in, “8” could serve as a late-arriving overture, with bits and pieces of the preceding collective variations. Brennan concludes the program with a solo that both sings and honks.
Brennan’s visceral rhythm section adeptly navigates the sometimes frenetically shifting soundscape. The alto sax and trumpet, while occasionally clashing, often work to complement each other in unexpected ways. When Wilson’s piano moves to the front, he brilliantly transforms the music, and Green, on “11,” is featured in a dazzling solo introduction. Tilting Curvaceous is thought-provoking and cerebral but farther-reaching and not without an organic warmth.