After a quick perusal of a web page or two I learned that Rigby, a Cleveland native who now resides in New York City, has accumulated some impressive credits over the past few years. Rigby is one third of the band, 'Heernt' - which plays a highly aggressive style of avant-garage jazz, much like Happy Apple, Birth, and The Bad Plus. He's also worked extensively with each of member of his quintet in a variety of settings - Holober's 'Gotham Jazz Orchestra,' Brown's 'Don Cherry Tribute Project,' and 'We Can Build You,' a 21st Century nu-jazz-with-laptop group led by Johnson. So, it's only fitting that the music on "The Sage" flows so naturally and swings so deeply.
The music on "The Sage" sits somewhere in the pre-fusion, avant-jazz middle ground between Miles Davis' 'Filles de Kilimanjaro' and some of Dave Douglas' recent quintet recordings. Rigby's complex but thoughtful compositions bear the influence of the many important late 50s and early 60s modern jazz artists - Ornette Coleman, Andrew Hill, Grachan Moncur III, Jackie McLean, Joe Chambers to name a few - whose writing balanced the cerebral and the swinging. Don't take my reviewer's penchant for comparison to mean that Rigby's music is in any way nostalgic or derivative, however. On the contrary, "The Sage" is fresh and fully in the here and now.
The CD's first track, 'Magenta,' an Ornette-ish burner with a theme that Johnson and Rigby play just slightly out-of-synch, hits the ground with both feet moving. After Johnson's lyrical trumpet solo, Rigby's bold tenor statement balances Warne Marsh-like post bop eloquence with Ayler-like shouting and squealing over Cleaver's phenomenal drumming. Holober chills the scene with icy Fender piano solo as the tune winds down. 'Crux' continues in much the same vein, only with a more terse rhythmic feel and a somewhat more complicated head. Cleaver's Tony Williams-esque drumming absolutely burns throughout this piece. The mellow, pensive 'Shift of Color,' with Rigby's flute and Holober's electric piano out front, could have been a lost track from Herbie Hancock's 'The Prisoner.'
Holober accentuates the unexpected angular funkiness of the title track by playing the bass line in unison with Brown. I especially enjoyed the rhythmic modulations of the melody, as well as Russ Johnson's amazing solo. Cleaver and Brown work beautifully in tendem, doing so much more than holding the rhythm down. Brown is featured on 'Slip,' where he turns in a stunning bass solo backed by Cleaver's ghostly cymbals and Holober's flanged keyboard. The piece is funky and slinky with a catchy, laconic melody - a bit like some of the stuff that the Dave Holland Quintet has been doing. Here, Rigby's soprano sax waxes Shorter-like over the burbling rhythm section. 'The Archer,' another funky-ish piece based on a somewhat off-kilter ostinato, features some of Johnson's most radical and most attention-grabbing trumpet playing of the entire CD. During Rigby's gritty tenor solo, the rhythm steps up to a rapid-fire 4/4, kicking the young saxophonist completely over the edge and setting the stage for another incandescent Fender piano solo from Mike Holober.
It's not often that I hear a recording by a new and unfamiliar artist that absolutely knocks me out from beginning to end, but Jason Rigby's "The Sage" does this in spades. This CD delivers so much musical goodness that normal adjectives fail me! If you are a fan of original 'out' jazz that swings hard - or if you dig the sound of the Fender piano in a modern jazz context - please make room in your music budget for "The Sage."