The opening cut, "gNash," informs us of the album’s message: "The squeamish need not apply." A slightly off-kilter beat by Motian and Hebert underpins Kolker’s and Abercrombie’s melodious playtime. Hebert breaks out to roll around joyfully, then theme and out. "Don’t Let It Bring You Down" shows everyone in the band in fine fettle for Neil Young’s tune, but the surprise is how Shakey’s melody is so similar to fellow north-of-the-border folkie Joni Mitchell’s.
A Monk tune is always a true test of any jazz ensemble, and this one steps up to the plate with "Played Twice," the highlights being Motian pushing and John Hebert’s wonderful bass solo.At this point, it seems to be important to tell anyone who hasn’t heard this album that Kolker and Abercrombie are most melodic and rhythmically tricky. Had that not been said, one might’ve thought this was a John Hebert/Paul Motian CD review.
Other highlights include overdubbed clarinet, flute and bass clarinet classically book-ending "Ties"; Kolker’s Monk-inspired composition "Only One" (the best cut on the album); a gorgeous version of Harold Arlen’s "Last Night When We Were Young," which builds slowly until everyone backs Kolker’s full-bodied vintage soloing; and the final track, the title track, which show’s everyone’s strengths.
As in most masterpieces, there is but a tiny flaw: the overuse of the three-note theme in the penultimate tune, "In Or Out." The use of the theme seems to be the instruments singing the words "In Or Out," which would be a clever device had it not been so overused. That aside, Paul Kolker’s Flag Day is an excellent example of what is happening now in modern jazz.