Well-traveled bassist Michael Formanek and his band-mates, here on The Rub and Spare Change, are accelerators of the new jazz with roots in New York City amid collaborations in the US and abroad for over three decades. An interesting composer and consummate idea man, Formanek highlights his cunning compositional prowess with this debut solo effort for ECM Records.
The division of labor in this release equates to a program that builds upon the players’ individual strengths and voices. Formanek’s highly-rhythmical works set the stage for these progressive-jazz icons to expand and explore a variety of unhurried frameworks. With budding fabrics of sound and meticulously crafted theme-building exercises, Formanek’s scope of compositions engender snappy grooves and capacious movements. These factors allow saxophonist Tim Berne and pianist Craig Taborn to carefully pick their spots and reformulate primary motifs into buoyant crescendos. Therefore, an overall sense of fluidity embraces the entire album.
The piece “Inside the Box,” musically holds true to the title, since the quartet works rather closely within a perimeter, featuring tightknit and complex unison lines atop a frothy flow and drummer Gerald Cleaver’s slippery beats. They follow a game-plan while Berne and Taborn stretch out during the bridge. Then on “Jack’s Last Call,” Taborn gets center stage and creates tension due to his clustering chord voicings. Essentially, he instills lucid imagery of a delicate situation at hand. Moreover, Formanek’s seventeen-minute “Tonal Suite,” is a multipart study on tonal contrasts.
Not overpowering, frenetic, or a modern jazz blowout, the bassist focuses more on evoking moods and using space, time and cadence as an underlying component. It’s a wide-ranging set, seamlessly merging a higher art-form with an equally high entertainment factor. Formanek digs deep and the end results are unequivocally fruitful.