Described on the artist's website as "hard swinging neo bop," this set does indeed swing joyfully. Sandoval (no relation to the Cuban jazz icon, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval) anchors the quartet on upright bass, laying down nice solid lines and stretching for an occasional solo. French pianist Loic Dequidt and American drummer John Arnold complete the multinational rhythm section. Dequidt, also calling Sweden home along with Sandoval, is active in the European jazz scene with his own Swedish trio as well as covering piano duties in three other groups (note: according to Sandoval's website, since the release of Action / Reaction the Rene Sandoval 4 has a new man behind the keys, Danish pianist Carl Winter). Drummer Arnold splits his time between his New York home and Rome, where he lived during his formative musical years. His musical creds are strong and he has an interesting pedigree: his grandfather was the legendary American songwriter Hoagy Carmichael.
Carrying most of the melodic and solo duties in the group is the only native Swede, alto saxophonist Fredrik Kronkvist. The 2002 Swedish National Radio "Newcomer of the Year," Kronkvist has great chops and his bold playing is a big reason for enjoying Action / Reaction.
The CD opens on "Country John Nostalgia" with an arrhythmic cadenza that creates a bit of a false first impression, hinting that we might be heading into free jazz territory; but then Sandoval clears things up about 30 seconds in with a loping bass line accompanied by Arnold's ride cymbal and some light comping by Dequidt. Kronkvist states the theme before he opens things up with a few solo choruses. The interplay between Kronkvist and Dequidt on keys is a great example of great musicians really listening to each other.
The second tune, "Try Me," is straight-ahead bebop at a blistering pace with Sandoval showing us he can walk a fast bass line with the best of them. The theme sounds like a play on Coltrane's famous "Giant Steps" and both Kronkvist and Dequidt get a chance to stretch out as the cord changes fly by.
All of the compositions are Sandoval's with the exception of "Te Quiero Solo" (by Violetta Parra), and he delivers a lot of interest and expression on all fronts: melodic, harmonic, and rhythmically. The delightful "Bacanissimo" gives us a nice blend of Latin and conventional bop rhythmic feel; "Denchis Blues" is fun 12-bar blues romp; "In The South," the only ballad on the set, sounds like a standard you know but can't quite place. Then there's the quirky "Ella" that asks Arnold to combine a steady high-hat with cadence-like snare work until it finally settles into a nice swing (later, Arnold gets a nice solo section; his drumming on the album is excellent).
Action / Reaction is a very nice release that any neo bop lover will enjoy, along with anyone who simply enjoys listening to fine jazz musicians have fun playing together. I hope that this is only the beginning of what we'll hear from the Rene Sandoval 4.