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Plainville by Jeremy Udden

One of the most pleasant developments of the past decade in jazz is its renewed embrace of ethnic and folk musics of various types. Included in this newly expanded musical world-view are elements that most listeners of my generation would normally associate with folk and country music. This extends beyond the use of atypical jazz instruments (such as pedal steel guitar, banjo, and pump organ), as Jeremy Udden and his band make plain on "Plainville," and encompasses the attitudes and values with which the musicians themselves approach the music. To wit, drummer R. J. Miller barely plays a fill anywhere on this disc, and bassist Eivind Opsvik has demonstrably stripped his playing down to its most basic elements. In Udden's hands, however, such restraint does not represent a 'dumbing-down' of jazz' essentially polyrhythmic flow. On "Plainville", these tendencies play out as a quietly subversive move on Udden's part that emphasizes his music's intrinsic lyricism and brings the playfulness of his compositions to the fore.

After a brief pump organ intro, Brandon Seabrook's banjo picks up the rhythm of title track, as Udden's breathy alto intones the sweet and somewhat sad melody over layers of pedal steel. Listening to this tune conjures forth images of white picket fences and abandoned storefronts in a small northeastern town. With its waltzing trashy percussion and herky-jerky waltz rhythm, 'Red Coat Lane' reminds me a bit some of the things Ori Kaplan recorded for the Knitting Factory label back in the late 90s. Seabrook, a mainstay of the downtown NYC Klezmer scene, contributes a brief, madcap banjo solo before Udden's lovely lyrical alto takes over. Udden, a featured soloist in Boston's own Either / Orchestra, possesses formidable technique; his probing, fluid and intelligent alto has a Konitz-like flair. The mood gets quite a bit darker on 'Curbs.' Driven by Seabrook's angry electric guitar and Pete Rende's chiming Fender Rhodes, the rhythmically-displaced melody gives the piece a urgent feeling that is reinforced by Seabrook's effects-laden guitar solo. 'Big Lick' utilizes some of the same devices in completely different way. Easily the most uptempo piece on the CD, it comes across as a punked-out version of something John Hollenbeck might have written. Again, Seabrook's imaginative, manic, and distortion-drenched solo provides another highlight before Udden, initially accompanied only by Opsvik, reclaims the spotlight with his finest, and most adventurous, solo of the CD.

"Plainville" is dominated, however, by music of a quieter, humbler sort. When the melodies are as lovely as 'Christmas Song' and 'The Reunion,' this is a good thing - one would tend not to bury gems like these in layers of guitar distortion and polyrhythmic drums. The same goes for the spooky ballad, 'Modest,' which actually gets a lot of mileage out of Pete Rende's distorted Rhodes chords in the background. Here, Udden turns in a remarkably lovely solo over Opsvik's dark and sinewy bass. With its strummed acoustic guitar intro and sunny-yet-sad melody, '695' sounds a bit like something the Pat Metheny Group might have a go at. Rende's Rhodes solo ends that comparison in its tracks, however. 'Empty Lots' ends the CD on a somber note - bathed in the sizzle of malleted cymbals, strummed acoustic guitar, and wheezy pump organ, Udden follows a beautiful solo by Opsvik with the quietly hymnic, Coltrane-like melody and his own lyrical, intimate solo.

"Plainville" is a beautiful, and honest expression of an artist who strives to do more than regurgitate jazz clichés. Jeremy Udden's music goes way beyond the eclecticism you'd expect from a jazz group that features a front line of pump organ (or pedal steel), banjo, and sax. It's fascinating that music so elemental, basic, and emotionally direct can be so obviously forward-looking.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jeremy Udden
  • CD Title: Plainville
  • Genre: Folk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent Records
  • Tracks: Plainville, Red Coat Lane, Curbs, Christmas Song, 695, Modest, Big Lick, The Reunion, Empty Lots
  • Musicians: Jeremy Udden (alto & soprano saxophones, cymbals), Pete Rende (pump organ, Fender Rhodes, pedal steel guitar, Prophet synth), Brandon Seabrook (banjo, electric & acoustic guitars), Eivind Opsvik (bass), R. J. Miller (drums), Nathan Blahar (nylon string guitar), Mike Baggetta (electric guitar), Justin Keller (tenor saxophone)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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