Geographical movements in artistic circles are not uncommon. The progressive impulse in painting so evident in early-20th century Paris was firmly entrenched in Manhattan by mid-century just as the latter part of the last century saw the seat of the dramatic arts migrate from New York to London. Given the cyclic nature of these types of movements, it shouldn’t be surprising to see some of the most imaginative players in Jazz currently emerging from the West Coast rather than the conventional birthing places in the East where staleness, hero worship and an overbearing reverence for tradition have frequently stilted new voices seeking expression.
Tree of Thorns features several examples of the multifaceted and expansive talent that is emerging from what was once a decidedly secondary area of the country in Jazz terms. This outing is led by Bob Weller, a well-known percussionist from Southern California who nevertheless appears here as a pianist. Don’t expect the limited palate of Mingus overseeing a date from behind the keyboard, however. Weller is an accomplished pianist who ranges over the keys with a dexterity that is reminiscent of McCoy Tyner. Joining Bob in the fine tradition of the Heaths, Joneses, etc. are brothers Danny and Charlie that contribute bass and trumpet respectively. One track even finds (sister? wife?) Ellen in attendance to provide an outstanding performance on soprano sax.
Ad copy for this CD points to a "dark energy" that unites the tracks. This is an apparent effort to project some sense of unity onto what is in reality a disparate collection of originals and standards. Bob and Danny share responsibility for the originals represented here with Bob’s tunes tending toward the freely improvised while Danny’s offerings are more tightly-penned. Added to the originals are two well-aged standards ("Yesterdays" and "Stella by Starlight" both given fresh and insightful readings) and a hard-driving rendering of Wayne Shorter’s "Footprints" which rounds out the eclectic mix. While it is Bob’s playing that gains the forefront on this recording, it is Danny’s compositions that surface as the more engaging of the offerings. Ranging from the haunting "Cranning Call" (the initial and best overall track on the disc) to the funky "I’ve Got a Hole in My Pocket", the tunes serve as solid showcases of the younger brother’s compositional skills.
Dark energies aside, any lack of cohesion in the tracks found here is certainly overcome by the excellence of the musicianship evident throughout this CD. Given that Jazz is historically such a tightly-knit art form, the emergence of families of talented musicians should be seen more frequently than it is. Musicianship that technically and artistically pushes boundaries requires more than mere proximity to achieve, however. As we would say in the South, the Weller family "got hit with the talent stick." If you can’t make it to the West Coast, you can witness the effect via this excellent CD.